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EU plans to open mission in Baghdad within next few months, official says

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BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) The European Commission said Friday it plans to open a delegation in Baghdad within the next few months, establishing a permanent mission in Iraq for the first time.

Briefing reporters after returning from the European Union's first high-level visit to Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the mission would be small in the beginning but would grow as the security situation permits.

''The security situation is difficult, and that's also the reason why we haven't opened a mission yet,'' she said. ''But we need a delegation there, with all the possible care given to security.''

Ferrero-Waldner described the first trip to Iraq by top EU leaders as ''a deeply significant visit and event.''

''For me, this is the beginning of a new political relationship with Iraq and I do hope that it can be growing toward a real partnership,'' she said.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU was looking to appoint a charge d'affaires who could engage in a political dialogue with the government. The EU wants the delegation to be in the so-called Green Zone in the center of Baghdad, where U.S. forces, Iraqi government offices and foreign embassies are located.

The EU had no political relations with Iraq during Saddam's 24-year regime.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zerbari told The Associated Press there currently are about 50 foreign embassies and missions in Iraq.

Security fears in Baghdad, where suicide car bombs, mortar attacks, shootings and kidnappings are a daily occurrence, is the main reason many countries lack diplomatic missions in Iraq.

The EU delegation's one-day visit to Baghdad on Thursday was to prepare for a donors' conference in Brussels later this month.

Ferrero-Waldner said Europe wanted to support the constitutional process in Iraq.

''We told them we know it's not always easy to draft a constitution,'' she said, referring to Europe's recent difficulties getting its own constitution adopted.

Ferrero-Waldner said the visit showed the EU's commitment to cooperation with the Iraqi authorities despite previous European divisions over the Iraq war.

Associated Press reporter Patrick Quinn in Baghdad, Iraq, contributed to this report.


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