The IBBC's 8th London Conference in session

The IBBC’s 8th London Conference in session

Iraq’s business leaders have welcomed the appointment of the country’s new government and praised its plans for economic development.

Speaking to more than 200 senior British and Iraqi business people and politicians in London on Wednesday, Mr Jaafar Al Hamdani, Chairman of the Iraqi Federation of Chambers of Commerce, said the government’s economic plans presented the “right course” for Iraq.

Mr Al Hamdani told the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) delegates that the government had the blessing of all Iraqi industry and commerce, and was also supported by the many friends of Iraq around the world who wanted to see the country back in “good shape”.

He thanked British business for its support, and he said all his members looked forward to wider economic relationships and partnerships.

The Chairman of the Kurdish Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Mr Dara Al Khayat, said Kurdish firms were already reaping the rewards of cooperation between the KRG and the UK.

He said there was a high proportion of foreign companies already well-established in KRG. They enjoyed the full support of both the government and other financial institutions.

Mr Al Khayat said the opportunities for British companies were “enormous”, not just in oil and gas, but in all sectors.

The Iraqi Deputy Minister for Housing and Construction, Dara Rashid Yara, said following the victory and triumph over IS, Iraq’s economy would be “reborn”.

“It will be booming again and we will need UK companies to come and participate in the reconstruction of Iraq and the KRG. The existence of IS means the existence of evil. Evil in this new world of democracy and civilisation needs to be removed, like a cancer,” added Mr Rashid.

In her welcoming remarks, the IBBC’s Executive Chairman, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, raised a subject close to many members’ hearts. Getting visas to visit the UK.

She thanked the UK Visa and Immigration departments for their help in allowing more than 70 “high-powered” delegates to London for the conference, but added that many IBBC firms had continuing problems with getting visas on a regular basis.

Baroness Nicholson said the system was well over-due for review.  The problems made it extremely difficult to invite long-standing members and friends, many of whom had visited the UK several times before yet suddenly found themselves unable to have their passport stamped. She added that it wasn’t the fault of the visa staff but something was wrong the policy.

IBBC Vice-President and the former UK Minister of State at the Foreign Office, Lord Howell of Guildford, said all friends of Iraq longed to see the country “bounce back” and become not only a major force in the Middle East but also the wider world.

He talked of the “enormous challenges” facing the country with the battle against the Islamic State continuing in several areas of the country.

He said the terrorist group were “barbarians” with no respect for the outside world. They were creating a stain on the face of Islam.

Lord Howell said this was not just a problem for Iraq but the rest of the world as well.

“This group is violent, cruel and barbaric, and they present a global problem which threatens every civilised state on the planet. We all should be concerned about this. Those who say leave it to the Americans, or the Europeans, or the Arab world are all wrong. This affects every country where Jihad has penetrated.”

Edward Oakden, a senior diplomat with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, pointed out that there was good and bad news coming out of Iraq.

The bad was the security situation but the good was that the economy was still growing at a fast pace, between 3 and 4 per cent. GDP had doubled in recent times to $6500 per capita.

Mr Oakden said there was still heavy reliance on the oil and gas industry which generated 93% of total revenue yet only employed one percent of the population. There was urgent need for diversification to counter this.

The Iraqi Ambassador to the UK, Faik Nerweyi, said his country needed Britain’s continued support to help fight the IS. He added that the knowledge that terrorists could not stop Iraq from keeping its way of living made him “very happy.”

“Many political observers think the struggle against Islamic State is effectively Iraq’s last chance as a nation state. I am not going to sugar-coat my comments either,” continued the Ambassador.

“What we are witnessing in Iraq poses one of the major threats to civilization faced in our generation. At the heart of this last chance saloon is the Daesh (IS) – a force so brutal, so evil at its core, that is seems, without exaggeration, apocalyptic for its destruction and crimes against humanity.”

He said the new government had given hope to the Iraqi people of a fresh start in terms of an “inclusive, decentralised body, with national institutions working on behalf of all. We have a lot to prove. Iraq has no choice but to win this latest fight against terrorism.”

Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the former Minister of State for Trade, and a Vice-President of the IBBC, introduced the discussion on the Oil and Gas Industry in Iraq.

All the panel’s delegates, Shell Iraq’s Hans Nijkamp, Foster Wheeler’s Filippo Abba, Mike Wenham of BP, and Michael Simms of Penspen, talked of their confidence in the future.  All their companies were doing great business in Iraq.

Mr Tony Hayward, Chief Executive of Genel Energy, which operates in the Kurdistan Region said life in Erbil was slowly returning to normal. Independent pipeline exports which had slowed to a trickle during the summer had now progressively become a torrent.

The “scale and pace” of KRG’s progress was unprecedented. Not only was it making a significant contribution to global oil supplies but it was also becoming one of Turkey’s most important gas suppliers. The government of the Kurdish region had been the driving force behind this.

Delegates heard from a series of expert panels during the day, with representatives of firms such as BP, Foster Wheeler, Genel Energy, Penspen, Perkins + Will, PwC, Saraji Group, SKA, SSH, and Zaha Hadid Architects.

British Universities such as Kingston, Bath Spa, Sheffield, and Wolverhampton – all now members of the IBBC – were also represented, as well as the British Council, the British Institute for Study in Iraq, and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. The academics are keen to see a British University open in Iraq to promote the country’s excellence in education.

Particular thanks to our  principal sponsor SKA, and to additional sponsors Perkins+Will and Saraji Group.

FOR MORE INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT ROBERT COLE ON +44 7768 464864 OR EMAIL [email protected] or [email protected]