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US Chamber of Commerce Seeks American Investment in Iraq

Workers at AAR, a Chicago-based aerospace company that wants to repair and maintain fleets of aircraft in Iraq to branch out its business.

A new, business-friendly Iraq was the topic of a recent event held in Washington by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Chamber officials believe the formation of a new government in Iraq will prompt American companies to invest there.

Cheryle Jackson is learning how to make money in Iraq. She is a vice president with AAR, an aerospace company in Chicago. The company wants to repair and maintain fleets of aircraft and handle transport airlift services in Iraq.

"The Middle East in general is an important emerging market and having a footprint there - going there with partners, doing a joint venture with businesses who exist there - is important," said Jackson.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has invited American business leaders to hear about investment opportunities from Sami Al-Araji, chairman of the Iraqi National Investment Commission. He said a new investment law in Iraq will open up the country to foreign business.

"We are in a direct link with the council of ministers and with the prime minister himself, so any problem that we have, we are in direct link with the executive branch and also to the legislative branch," said Al-Araji.

Al-Araji told the group about plans to build a million houses, as well as to convert government-run companies to control of private shareholders.

Iraqi ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie said the time is right to invest in Iraq. "There's a lot of money to be made. There are a many companies who are making money in Iraq right now."

Iraq is still not a peaceful country, even though the United States ended its combat mission there in August, now only advising and assisting Iraqi forces. Sectarian violence is common. Many roads and bridges are in disrepair. Electricity is unreliable. A World Bank survey rates Iraq as the worst place in the Middle East to do business, and ranks it 166th out of all 183 countries worldwide.

"The country's in a mess," said Robert Ebel, who writes about energy and national security in Iraq. He said corruption and lack of infrastructure make it difficult to do business there. "I would look at it as a long-term investment, but I would go in very slowly, do my homework and be ready to leave if the situation looked like it wasn't going to play out."
But for now, Jackson and a colleague have arranged a private meeting with al-Araji to discuss possibilities. He encourages them. Then, Jackson meets with her CEO over lunch, to inform him what she's learned.

The next step is for AAR is to submit a written business plan to the Iraqi National Investment Commission. Then, early next year, Jackson and others will fly to Iraq to meet with government and business leaders.

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