US Opens Consulate in Northern Iraq to Boost Investment

Posted July 10th, 2011 at 10:25 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States has opened a consulate in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, in an effort to lure more American investors to one of the most stable and dynamic regions of the country.

U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey opened the new mission in the Kurdish city of Irbil Sunday, saying Iraq needs the support of American businesses.

To coincide with the opening, Marriott International Corp. signed an agreement with Kurdish officials for a 200-room hotel and 75 executive apartments in Irbil, to be built over a three-year period.

Also Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad, saying he will press Iraqi leaders to decide whether they want U.S. troops to remain beyond an end-of-2011 deadline.

Speaking to reporters at a U.S. base in Afghanistan before boarding a flight to Iraq, Panetta said he will “encourage” Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials to make a decision about the U.S. troop presence during talks scheduled for Monday.

The United States is due to withdraw its remaining 46,000 soldiers from Iraq by December 31 under a 2008 agreement with the Iraqi government. But U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed concern about the ability of Iraqi government forces to cope with security after the pullout.

President Jalal Talabani says Iraq's political parties will decide within two weeks whether to ask the United States to keep some troops in Iraq after the deadline. One faction in Mr. Maliki's Shi'ite-led government already has expressed opposition to such a move – the political bloc of radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Panetta says he also will urge Iraqi leaders to do more to fight Shi'ite militias that Washington blames for most of the 15 U.S. troop deaths in Iraq last month. U.S. officials accuse Iran of supplying Shi'ite militiamen with weapons that killed most of the soldiers. June was the deadliest month for U.S. forces in Iraq in two years.

The U.S. military said another service member was killed in southern Iraq on Sunday, and that the matter is under investigation.