National Press Club

Security concerns, legal-system weaknesses confront U.S. business in Iraq

July 18, 2011 | By Tejinder Singh | tejindersinghdc@gmail.com

Abundant opportunities in post-war Iraq are being missed by American companies because of security concerns, according to experts who addressed a Club Newsmaker event on July 13.

Susan Hamrock-Mann, director of the Iraq Reconstruction Task Force at the Dept. of Commerce, said that investing in Iraq is "not for the weak of heart" and that the “market is extremely challenging.”

Hamrock-Mann said that the nascent Iraqi government is “not accustomed to world class procurements,” while there is an “underdeveloped legal system.”

Also participating in the panel were representatives from Eng. Abdullah A. Jiburi General Contracting Company and 360 Architecture, partners in the Basrah Sports Complex; Amb. Patricia Haslach, Iraq Transition Coordinator at the State Dept.; Lionel Johnson, vice president, Middle East and North Africa Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and Naufel Alhassan, commercial counselor, Embassy of Iraq.

After security, the next major problem is corruption. The panel participants from Iraq stressed that there was a difference between “perception of corruption and real corruption,” with some asserting that the problem is blown out of proportion.

“We are trying to change the culture,” Akhassan said.

Haslach said that the Iraqi government has already signed on the U.N. Convention on Corruption and that Baghdad is taking the subject “very seriously.”

Noting that they are on their third project, another sports complex in Iraq, George Heinlein of 360 Architecture, said, “(Iraq) is a rewarding place to do business."

He added that the company has hired “an Iraqi engineer who is our eyes and ears there.”

Sharing from his recent trip to Baghdad and Basra with a business delegation, Johnson expressed his satisfaction with meetings in Iraq, saying that there are huge needs that must be addressed, especially in the sectors of “electricity and housing.”

“Housing sector needs three million housing units as per a U.N. report,” Alhassan said. He said that there are lots of difficulties “down the road,” but said that they represent "opportunities for the U.S. and the world.”

Questions were raised about the lack of a clearing house where different businesses could find answers at one Web site.

Hamrock-Mann provided www.trade.gov/Iraq as one helpful location while Alhassan said that all the Iraqi ministries have websites that are functional and answer relevant questions.