Although the political outlook in northern Iraq has been clouded by tensions between Turkey and Kurdish militants based in border areas in Iraqi Kurdistan, such worries seem far away at a trade fair in the Kurdish city of Irbil. VOA's Deborah Block reports that the fair is showcasing the products and services of Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq.

More than 150 companies from Iraq and 20 other countries are taking part in the trade fair. Exhibits include cars, medicine and building materials, as well as investment services and communications technology.

Kurdistan's economy is rapidly expanding partly because of an investment law that provides incentives to foreign investors but also because the autonomous area has been stable and largely free of violence.

Falah Mustafa Bakir is head of foreign relations for the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, the KRG. He says Kurdistan is taking the lead in rebuilding the country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

"Kurdistan, having the relatively safe and secure environment, is the best gateway for Iraq," said Falah Mustafa Bakir. "Therefore, we have tried, and the policy of the KRG has been in fighting for investment, encouraging private sector involvement in this reconstruction, so that we will be the gateway for the rest of Iraq."

Ashraf Haitham works for a window and door company. He says his firm moved its factory from Baghdad to Irbil.

He says many companies have come to Irbil from Baghdad because of the violence and insecurity in the Iraqi capital. He says business and investment in Irbil is better, and the city is safer and more secure.

Ammar Fakhri is an advisor to the Iraqi Ministry of Construction and Housing in Baghdad which has building projects throughout Iraq. He says that violence in Baghdad and other cities is making housing construction difficult.

He says what we were able to build in ten days now takes three months or more because of the violence.

Fakri also says the government is rebuilding some of Saddam Hussein's palaces that were damaged and has plans to open them to tourists.

Zaid Mahdi says private sector businesses are helping the Iraqi economy grow. He is the business development director for the country's largest bank, The Trade Bank of Iraq. Credit cards are rarely accepted in Iraq. He says his bank is trying to facilitate business by installing more ATM machines, beginning in Irbil.

"We were the first bank to operate ATM machines inside Iraq, but they were located in banks," said Zaid Mahdi. "Now we are moving one step forward. The economy of Irbil is growing and we will put the ATMs in shopping malls and big hotels."

But the outlook is not all rosy.

Turkish officials say that Ankara has approved economic sanctions against the Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK and those who support the rebels, who operate out of bases near the Turkish border inside Iraq, several hours north of Irbil.

Cross border trade between Turkey and Iraq is worth billions of dollars, and sanctions could have a negative impact on the economy of northern Iraq.

But for the moment, business executives at the fair are optimistic about their role in rebuilding their country.