By ARTHUR MACDONALD , Posted on » Thursday, September 30, 2010
MANAMA: In spite of problems with security and corruption, Iraq remains an excellent opportunity for investment, delegates at an international conference in Bahrain organised by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) were told yesterday.
The organisers brought more than 120 delegates from the US, Europe and across the region to the Iraq Business and Investment seminar hosted at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa for the launch of their white paper on perspectives on risks and rewards in Iraq.
The EIU interviewed 367 senior international executives about their views on investment and business in Iraq.
A total of 69 per cent of those who took part felt there remained an unacceptable foreseeable level of future violence in the country while 45 per cent were concerned about levels of corruption.
But Iraq government’s official spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh said that the fears about security were exaggerated and not nearly as bad as seen on television.
“There is enough security for major strategic projects in infrastructure, housing, hydrocarbons and power generation to go ahead and the government is committed long-term to privatisation and welcoming in foreign investment,” he said.
“There is a problem about corruption, I do not deny that, but we are dealing with this as fast as we can as we rebuild a shattered economy but the main point is that there are opportunities for investment in the country,” he added.
He said that while the country’s elections had been held up this was no reason for investors to shy away from Iraq.
“The new government might not be in place yet but Iraq is here and offering opportunities. There are huge opportunities for investors now and anyone thinking of investing here should not delay.”
He added that the major investors to date tended to be nearby countries like Turkey and the Arab region but that there was ample opportunities for more international investors to play a profitable role in the reconstruction of the country’s economy.
Iraq’s proven oil reserves mean that the country could increase its output dramatically over the next few years, according to Citibank chief executive officer for Jordan and Iraq Mayank Malik.
Mr Malik, who headed Citibank’s Bahrain operations before taking on his new role, predicted that in five to seven years, Iraqi oil production could grow from 2.5 million barrels a day to between 10m and 12m barrels, outstripping Saudi production.
“At present Iraq has probably the third largest proven oil reserves in the world, but there has not been a lot of work done on finding new reserves for some time and these could be massive,” he said.
“The long-term potential for Iraq is very positive and we have been very encouraged about the way things are going,” he added.
“What we have to do is change the perception of Iraq and get it closer to what is actually the reality,” said Trade Bank of Iraq chairman and chief executive officer Hussain Al Uzri.
“The opportunities are there for investors and we already have a lot of people investing in the country’s future.
“What people have to realise is that Iraq is no longer like it was two years ago and companies who have invested in Iraq are doing very well.”
Gulf Air is playing an important role in helping Iraq develop its economy, chief executive officer Samer Majali said.
The airline, one of the first to offer scheduled flights to Iraq, has transported more than 120,000 passengers to the country in the past 12 months and it is looking to build on this.
“We are flying to Baghdad, Najaf and Erbil and will be launching flights to Basra at the end of October and we are seeing positive business,” he said.
“We play a major role in providing access to the country and are supporting investment opportunities for people wanting to do business there.
“These routes have been very positive for both Gulf Air and Iraq economy,” he added.