The U.S. role in Iraq is changing. American combat troops are pulling out and, says Iraq's prime minister, it's time for U.S. businesses to take a prominent role in his country.
The U.S. ends its military presence in Iraq this month, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told business leaders at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that the economic relationship between the U.S. and Iraq is far from over.
"The mutual sacrifices and hard work between the two countries, and by the two countries in fighting terrorism, this will be the bridge that will make it possible for more American corporations to come to Iraq and do their constructive work," said Maliki.
About 40 Iraqi business leaders accompanied Mr. Maliki to Washington this week, eager to build strong partnerships with U.S. companies.
Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Thomas Nides welcomed them.
"This is a time for America to start thinking of Iraq as a country, not as a war - one defined not just by who is leaving, but who is staying," said Nides.
Iraq's security situation leaves some companies hesitant to do business there. Deadly attacks are frequent, but violence is down significantly since peaking in 2006 and 2007.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Byson told the Chamber Iraq is worth the risk.
"More U.S. companies see Iraq as a promising and important emerging market, one that's said to grow faster, even now, faster in these years immediately ahead, than China," said Byson.
After Mr. Maliki's comments, Deputy Secretary Nides told VOA American businesses should jump at the chance to serve tens of millions of Iraqi consumers.
"At the end of the day, it's about making money, it's about opportunities, and there are plenty of opportunities to be had in Iraq," he said.
Iraqi leaders say they are committed to increasing the number of American companies in their nation. As their prime minister said, it will not be generals, but business leaders at the front lines of the new Iraq.