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German Foreign Minister In Baghdad To Boost Ties

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Germany's foreign minister is in Baghdad to deepen ties with oil-producing Iraq after opposing the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Germany refused to send troops to Iraq, but the government made clear in past months that it hopes to reestablish business links with the country.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier's arrival follows a visit last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The visits underscore a shift in European engagement in Iraq after U.S. President Barack Obama took office and a deal was reached for the more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to withdraw by the end of 2011.

"We hope that this will be a new beginning for broader relations in different fields," said Iraq's Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi, adding that Steinmeier was traveling with a delegation of business executives.

Last July, Michael Glos, then economy minister, became the first German cabinet minister to visit Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Germany and Iraq have since then signed a bilateral investment agreement aimed at bolstering ties between Europe's largest economy and Iraq, which has the world's third-largest proven oil reserves.

Steinmeier was received at Baghdad airport by Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Violence in the country has reached its lowest level since the war began, but appearances by foreign dignitaries are still cloaked in tight security.

Steinmeier is expected to meet Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani in the two-day visit.

"The Iraqi government has achieved important successes in the political stabilization of the country over the past months," Steinmeier said in Berlin before taking off. "My trip shows: We want to support this new Iraq on its path towards democratic consolidation and a peaceful balance between religious and ethnic groups."

Before becoming foreign minister, the Social Democratic (SPD) Steinmeier was chief of staff to former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who led Germany's opposition to the invasion.