Monday, October 18, 2004

Gulf Daily News Iraq seeks ports in Iran and Kuwait for wheat imports

Gulf Daily News: "Iraq seeks ports in Iran and Kuwait for wheat imports
BAGHDAD: Iraq is negotiating with Iran and Kuwait to use their Gulf ports to import one million tonnes of Australian wheat, Iraqi officials say.

The Australian Wheat Board was last month awarded a tender to sell one million tonnes of wheat for delivery through Iraq's Um Qasr port during the first quarter of next year.

But congestion and a shortage of equipment at Um Qasr has prompted Iraq to seek help from Iran, with which relations have been uneasy, and Kuwait, the officials say.

Ties worsened after Iraqi officials accused Iran of supporting "terrorist" attacks against Iraqi targets. Tehran denied involvement, saying a stable Iraq was in the region's interests.

"There is simply no way we could bring the shipments through Um Qasr. The situation there is a mess," a senior Iraqi trade ministry official said.

"A deal with Iran to use its Bandar Al Khomeini Gulf port is effectively sealed and the Kuwaitis have indicated no objection to use their Shouaikh port," said the official.

Iran has been upgrading its Gulf ports, unlike Iraq. Iraq's now defunct Coalition Provisional Authority has already paid Australia millions of dollars in demurrage payments for shipments delayed at Um Qasr, using Iraqi oil revenues.

Iraq imports three million tonnes of wheat a year, mostly from Australia, and distributes it to Iraqis as part of their food rations.

Saddam Hussein's government stopped buying US wheat in the early 1990s, and postwar Iraqi officials have continued to import wheat from Australia."

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