WASHINGTON - Iraqi grain officials have accepted a formal invitation from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman to visit the United States and tour the U.S. rice industry, including areas in the Mid-South, in May.

The USA Rice Federation has been working to organize the tour as a follow up to its successful meeting with members of the Iraqi Grain Board in Amman, Jordan in late February. Iraq's Ministry of Trade has named six members to the delegation, who will travel to the United States in the third and fourth week of May.

Those members are Ahmad FJ Al-Mukhtar, director general, foreign economic relations, Ministry of Trade; Nazar Khidhir Mohammed, director general, Grain Board; Khalid Abbas Jasim, director, Quality Control Department, Grain Board; Muna B. Muslih, director, Import Department, Grain Board; Yousif Hatab Abbas, director general, Grain Processing Company; and Ali Shinawa Sabti, senior engineer, Grain Processing Company.

The mission will be jointly funded and coordinated by the USA Rice Federation, the Cochran Fellowship Program, the U.S. Wheat Associates, and the U.S. Rice Producers Association. USA Rice is working with the delegation to determine exact travel dates and locations for the tour.

USA Rice Federation and U.S. Rice Producers Association have been working with USDA to help re-establish Iraq as a market for U.S. rice. Iraq was one of the leading buyers of U.S. rice until the 1991 Gulf War.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com