After almost three decades of war and international isolation, Iraq is crying out for foreign investment and knowledge. A range of state-owned industries, from oil and gas to agriculture and steel, are opening up like never before.
If the opportunities are unprecedented, the risks, although reduced from a year ago, remain high. Military operations against Shia militiamen in southern Iraq and the pursuit of Sunni Islamist terrorists in the centre and to the north of the country may have helped to push violence down to its lowest level in four years, but these security gains are reversible. It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi police and army will succeed in carrying the relative calm into next year as the US military reduces its presence and the few remaining British forces in southern Iraq prepare to leave.
Much hinges on the Government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister. Inviting private investment in state-owned sectors requires the agreement of government ministries - and that involves much paperwork and negotiations. Foreign companies that have expressed an interest in Iraq are already familiar with the slow pace of the Iraqi decision-making process. Investors will also be looking for assurances that business legislation is of an international standard.
A bilateral accord between Baghdad and Washington covering their relationship beyond the end of the year, including a Status of Forces Agreement, will add further clarity to the muddled Iraqi landscape. London and Baghdad are to sign a similar accord, which will legitimise the presence of foreign forces in Iraq following the expiry of a United Nations Security Council mandate on December 31.
Iraq: Risky land of opportunity - Source
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