MOSCOW - Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu left on Tuesday for a high-level visit to Iraq focusing on humanitarian cooperation - the latest attempt by Moscow to ease Baghdad's isolation.
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and other Cabinet officials were expected to receive Shoigu, said Irina Andriyanova, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry.
Russian and Iraqi officials were to discuss establishment of a center for rescue techniques including mine-clearing, she said.
Shoigu will also discuss the health consequences from use of depleted uranium ammunition and ecological damage to Iraq following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Iraq has said it has evidence that a recent increase in cancers and birth defects among its people is linked to the weapons.
Russia has dramatized its demand for lifting U.N. sanctions against Iraq with a series of official visits to Baghdad and humanitarian aid flights that have also ferried business executives. Moscow has several stalled oil cooperation projects in Iraq, and is owed billions of dollars by Baghdad in Soviet-era debt that Iraq cannot now pay off.
The United Nations imposed sanctions on weapons and consumer goods as part of a U.S.-led drive to reverse Iraq's annexation of Kuwait in 1990. In spite of the efforts of U.N. Security Council members Russia, France and China, U.N. officials have said that full sanctions will not be lifted until U.N. inspectors certify that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been destroyed.
En route to Iraq, Shoigu was scheduled to stop briefly in the Azerbaijani capital Baku for meetings with rescue officials in the Caucasus Mountains country, ITAR-Tass said.