The Iraqi National Business Council kicked off its first conference to explore the prospects of economic investment in Iraq on Saturday (December 19th) in Baghdad.
The opening of the conference was attended by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the ministers of trade and industry, chairman of the National Investment Authority, and a number of Iraqi businessmen and investors.
The Council was founded on December 2nd of this year by businessmen in Iraq for the purpose of "promoting the private sector and putting an end to its marginalization so that it may play its role in the reconstruction of Iraq," according to Council Chairman Ibrahim al-Baghdadi.
"Determining the nature of the relationship between the government and the private sector is one of the most important goals of the Council. We want to achieve big Iraqi projects through cooperation with Arab and international business organizations," al-Baghdadi said.
In a speech delivered at the opening of the conference, al-Maliki described the foundation of the Iraqi National Business Council as "a good project for [the country's] economic revival. It is also a step in the right direction and a positive indicator of the country's economy," he said.
During the conference, al-Maliki said the "trend towards the private sector is a pioneering step for political and economic reform, and is a comprehensive development."
Al-Maliki added that the conference was not previously held due to security concerns, but now it "is an invitation to all those who left Iraq to come back and help with the economy and development."
Meanwhile, Iraqi Minister of Trade Safa al-Din al-Safi stressed in his speech the importance of joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and protecting Iraqi products.
Al-Safi participated in the 7th WTO Ministerial Conference, which was held in Geneva November 30th through December 2nd. During the conference, he highlighted Iraq's need to join the WTO.
"Iraq is a developing country that needs technical assistance, training and aid for trade, development of trade-related skills, infrastructure that would benefit from WTO agreements, and the expansion of the scope of trade," al-Safi said.
Chairman of the National Investment Authority Sami al-Araji said there were three main aspects to the Council's 5-year plan.
"The first is foreign consultancy, the second is partnership between the Iraqi public sector and the Iraqi and foreign private sectors, and the third is the development of Iraqi private sector through investments to support small and medium-sized enterprises," he said.
Al-Araji also spoke about a major residential project taking place in all provinces that will attract contributions and investments, "and which will be distributed based on the density of population in provinces. The aim of these projects is to support citizens with middle income and below. Other projects for limited-income people will follow in the future."
"In the first half of 2010, we will launch investments for the construction of more than 1 million residential units across Iraq," al-Araji said, revealing a plan to develop the land of al-Rasheed Camp in Baghdad.
According to al-Araji, these projects and others represent the trend towards the creation of partnerships between the public and private sectors and public and private contributions from companies. He added that there is a plan to create a consultant bank using stable Iraqi capital and $5 billion in support from the Central Bank of Iraq, and al-Rafedein and al-Rasheed banks.
PHOTO: [SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images] The Iraqi National Business Council encourages Iraqi businessmen to invest in construction and residential projects in Iraq.