DESPITE the obvious and ongoing security concerns in Iraq, for those organisations with experience in the region there are good, long-term prospects to be had from involvement in rebuilding the country.
Australian Ambassador to Iraq Neil Mules said that most opportunities presently were in the international effort to rebuild Iraq, rather than the private sector.
The biggest opportunities involved the US military and the US-led provisional coalition authority.
“I’m under permanent house arrest in Baghdad and I move around under escort,” Mr Mules said.
“It’s potentially an even more dangerous place for visitors who don’t have 70 Australian soldiers to look after them the way I do.
“I’m afraid that, as a result, my best advice and my sincere advice to those of you thinking about travelling to Iraq to do business is that you really should not travel to Iraq at the moment.”
Additionally, he said, poor communications and the lack of infrastructure work against doing business in Iraq at the moment.
“I think it is going to take some time to move away from the centralised government control of the Saddam era and overcome the desperate status of the infrastructure of legal and banking services of Iraq today,” Mr Mules said.
“Major contracts go to American companies of course, but the subcontracts are tending to go to the Iraqis or other well-known US companies.
“That said, you can work with the major US contractors, much in the way that Clough is doing.
“There are opportunities also in terms of making business contacts and working out of other countries, for example Jordan and Kuwait.
“It is fairly hard to get a foot in the door at the moment.”
“I don’t want to down-play the bad news, because there is plenty of it. But there is good news and the starting point is Iraq itself and the Iraqis,” he said.
“Baghdad has always been one of the great centres of culture and sophistication in the Arab world.
“It has a tradition of education and forward looking approach to the rest of the world and that sits there below the surface, ready to be built on.
“There are institutions in Iraq that have survived and can be revived again, but we’re going to have start from scratch.
“There is no question that Iraq offers very significant potential opportunities in Australian business, both in the short term and in the longer term as the economy emerges from the neglect and squalor of the Saddam autocracy.”
Mr Mules said there were already “good news” stories of Australian companies operating successfully in Iraq.
“Morris Corporation is providing catering services via the US military at Baghdad airport and other companies are taking consultancy work for the UN,” he said.
“A security firm, AKE, is providing all the security for CNN, and that is an Australian company.
“Most recently, the Australian Wheat Board [with some reasonable level of support from my team in Baghdad and our colleagues in New York and Washington] secured major wheat contracts that had been under some doubt as the UN’s oil for food program winds down.
“I think that is extremely good news for Australia and for WA in particular.”
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