GENEVA — Iraq’s interim government has submitted a formal request to World Trade Organization director general Supachai Panitchpakdi seeking authorization to begin talks to enter the 148-nation group.

The bid by Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed al-Jibouri came after Baghdad received observer status in February.

“We support Iraq’s request to form a working party as a first step toward WTO accession,’’ said a U.S. State Department spokesman. “To that effect, we have invited a team of senior Iraqi officials and experts to the U.S. to discuss trade issues, including preparation for WTO accession negotiations.”

The oil-rich nation of 25.9 million people is a potentially lucrative market if the military is able to stabilize security, experts said.

WTO entry talks can take years to conclude. China, for instance, was in negotiations for several years before it was admitted in 2001.

Iraq might face some political obstacles, particularly since neighboring rival Iran’s bid to join the WTO has languished for more than two years.

“I always support an application coming from an Arab country to be a fully fledged member,” said Ambassador Saad Alfaragi, Geneva representative of the League of Arab States, with 22 member countries, including Iraq. “We want the WTO to be a universal body, and it must be open to all members of the international community.”

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.