Iraq has always been host to great civilisations, each casting their cultural footprints and, hybridising a rich tapestry of culture and people. The Iraqis are diverse, educated, cultured and fascinating, having inspired the invention of the wheel, cereals, and scripts, Mathematics, Astronomy and Agriculture. Now, for probably the first time, they are free to pursue their own agendas, recreate their government, and rebuild the battered country and create a new Babylon of the C21st.
Let’s not bet against this working out well. The country is at the nexus of world routes, has the largest oil and gas supplies in the world, is positioned between economically resurgent Iran and Turkey, is about to plug into the Chinese Silk road railway, is unlikely to be invaded again, is in the throes of establishing a secure and peaceful country, once Daesh are driven out of Mosul, and has just received $14bn in development loans to rebuild infrastructure and power systems.
But as British we have unique skills that can contribute to the restoration of Iraq. Not only do out two major oil companies (Shell and BP) generate most of Iraq’s oil wealth, but our builders, architects and master-planners (including Zaha Hadid Architects, Mott MacDonald, and Perkins+Will) are the toast of the world. And, to support the rule of law, professional services and the hallmarks of civilised society, our lawyers and accountants (e.g. EY, PWC, and Eversheds) are positioned to provide stabilisers and professionalism to the emergent economy. Finally, Let us not forget that Iraq has 30 million moderately wealthy citizens, keen for better consumer retail, technology, education and tourism services the likes of which we are well placed to provide.
Of course there are obstacles, including war-driven economic corruption, ethnic and religious tensions, and a battered infrastructure, but given the right leadership and support, they can be overcome. For British companies operating south of Baghdad, business is relatively safe and predictable, and large projects are starting to emerge. GE has won a $1.4bn contract to build gas fired electricity stations, adding substantial capacity to the grid, while Eversheds are seeing their commercial business grow 25% a year, and Zain Telco are expecting 7% growth in the economy, and building a tech innovation centre to realise tech’s potential in the region. To cap it all, despite the wars, the Iraqis like the British and have a strong sense of loyalty to our way of life and value our education.
Now is a good time to reassess the business and cultural opportunities Iraq offers, to step up and contribute to the creation of a 21st century Babylon, and to think differently about ancient civilisation that has given so much to the world.
If you would like to find out more, the Investment Conference for Iraq will be held on April 3rd at Mansion House, with the Iraq Britain Business Council.
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