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Non-Oil Foreign Investments to be Permitted in Iraq - 2003-09-21

A series of sweeping economic reforms for Iraq has been announced at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meeting in Dubai. The country has swung the door wide open for foreign investment, but there are still deep concerns about security in Iraq.

Investment in every sector of Iraq's economy, except oil and other natural resources, will be permitted as part of wide economic reforms announced by the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim finance minister, Kamel al-Kilani.

In a statement issued in Dubai, Mr. al-Kilani said the reforms would "significantly" advance efforts to build a free and open market economy in Iraq. Mr. al-Kilani said the reforms would also promote the future of Iraq's economic growth, and accelerate the country's re-entry into the global economy. He said the objective is to raise the living standards of all Iraqis "as soon as possible."

The reforms allow up to 100 percent foreign ownership in all sectors of Iraq's economy, except oil. Foreign investors will also be allowed to buy Iraqi businesses or set up joint partnerships.

Banks will be given virtual free entry into Iraq after five years. Six foreign banks will get "fast-track" entry into Iraq, on condition that they agree to "substantial" lending early. While foreign investors will not be allowed to own Iraqi real estate, they will be allowed to lease property for 40 years.

While saying that the reforms offer real promise, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow warned that security is still a major concern in Iraq. During a luncheon in Dubai, Mr. Snow observed that "capital is a coward." He said investors will not go to places where they feel threatened.

U.S. troops have been the targets of almost daily attacks, and oil pipelines have been sabotaged.

Washington has been seeking greater international involvement, including troops, in restoring democracy in Iraq.

The reforms are intended to speed up the reconstruction process in Iraq, while at the same time create jobs for Iraqis, a top priority of the interim Iraqi governing council and the Coalition Provisional Authority.