Iraq Delegation Courts American Business

As Iraq becomes more stable, the country is drawing interest from international investors. Linda Wertheimer talks with Dr. Sami al-Araji, chairman of the Iraq National Investment Council.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki is in Washington this week, along with a trade delegation. The Iraqi government hopes to encourage American investment. Today they're holding a conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to convince investors that Iraq is a good bet. The head of Iraq's National Investment Commission is Dr. Sami al-Araji. He stopped by to tell us why American businesses should be looking at Iraq.

Dr. SAMI AL-ARAJI (Chairman, Iraq National Investment Council): Well, we think there's a lot of opportunities for American business to be in Iraq. Iraq is a rich nation in its capabilities and its natural resource. Now that we put the military page behind us, I think the most important page that we should cooperate on is the economic page. Hopefully that we can get American businessmen to enter into Iraq in the different economic sectors, oil and gas industry, agriculture, tourism.

WERTHEIMER: Now you mentioned oil first, and when anyone thinks of Iraq that is obviously the first of the natural resources that anybody thinks about. But Iraq's plans to award contracts to foreign oil companies to help rebuild the infrastructure of oil production, all of that, do you think it would make the process easier for outside investors if Iraq had an oil loss so that these companies will feel they have some recourse if things go wrong?

Dr. AL-ARAJI: Of course the oil and gas law is right now in the Parliament and hopefully it will be - hopefully it will be approved before the end of the year. This is our hope. Second, there are governmental agreements - the governmental guarantees to all the investors that their rights are protected.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think is the principal barrier?

Dr. AL-ARAJI: To begin with, I think there is still this notion that Iraq is still, security-wise, is let's say, not inducive or conducive to investments. We would like to say that we think that the environment is now very much favorable to the American business and American companies to enter.

WERTHEIMER: As I'm sure you're aware, Dr. Al-Araji, the organization called Transparency International…

Dr. AL-ARAJI: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: …which takes a look at countries and how they govern, rated Iraq as the third most corrupt country in the world. Now that's - that's no kind of rating to have when you're trying to attract businesses to come in.

Dr. AL-ARAJI: To begin with, I really disagree with this rating. I do not rule out that we have a certain amount of corruption in certain areas of, let's say of our machinery - whether it be in the public or the private. But I would say, we are not that bad in comparison to a lot of countries in the region.

WERTHEIMER: One of the major, you know, things that a lot has been written about that nothing is really going to happen in terms of the development of Iraq until after the elections, that there is a pause - the oil law has not passed, the elections have not been held. That everything is kind of on hold until all of that is taken care of.

Dr. AL-ARAJI: No, I'm not saying that. Life…

WERTHEIMER: I know you're not saying that.

Dr. AL-ARAJI: Life…

WERTHEIMER: I'm saying that.

Dr. AL-ARAJI: Life is moving on. We're working very hard and diligently to use the remainder of this year. When election comes the people will judge who did the best for them and who's capable of doing the best for them.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Al-Araji, thank you very much.

Dr. AL-ARAJI: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Dr. Sami al-Araji is the chairman of Iraq's National Investment Commission. He joined us here in our studies in Washington.

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WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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