|Businesses focus on the positive insisting conditions are improving|
|Corruption and lawlessness contribute to risky business environment
Even while security products and services are one of the main business opportunities and growth sectors in Iraq, business people and investors in all sectors are optimistic that the situation will improve, and the reconstruction effort will
Thousands of people from Iraq, across the Middle East, and around the world are currently gathered in Amman, Jordan for the Rebuild Iraq Expo 2005, to explore those possibilities and to see how they can get a piece of the billions that will be spent over the next five to ten years on reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Andy Bearpark was formerly a British official with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, and currently advises governments and businesses planning on setting up operations in Iraq. He thinks that, despite the problems still seen in Iraq, the security situation is finally starting to look up.
"It seems now that things are starting to get better. Hopefully that means the physical reconstruction can start to accelerate."
While he explained that reconstruction work never stopped, frequent attacks and bombings have slowed down the work dramatically.
"We're seeing an awful lot of progress, progress politically, progress socially, progress economically, but all change brings with it a certain amount of discomfort, chaos, and we've certainly seen in the last year there is a horrendous security problems in Iraq, just unimaginable carnage."
This, however, doesn't surprise Bearpark, who worked in a number of post-war environments before starting his work in Iraq.
"Iraq is going through an inevitable transition. It's gone through regime change, the coalition got rid of a horrible dictator, and democracy is a very fragile bird, it's one that grows slowly. It has to be nurtured, and that's what's happening now."
Greg Wong, a commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, emphasized the great opportunities that exist for both Iraqi and foreign companies. "The opportunities over the long term are huge."
He said projections estimate that "$50 billion will be spent over the next several years on the rebuilding of Iraqi infrastructure, and less than half of that will come from outside donors."
However, his positive words also came with a warning: "Go cautiously, but go. There are many problems in Iraq, and security is only one of them."
Dishonest business practices, and a high degree of lawlessness, are among the problems he said make doing business in Iraq a risky enterprise.
Despite those warning, the energy in Amman is contagious. Ali Sharif runs a contraction company in Najaf, Iraq. Though he still sees problems, they are not as widespread as often portrayed.
"The security is not very bad. Only in a small region in Iraq the security is bad, in the north, in the south we feel that it is good, very very good."
Sharif described the developing economy as almost boundless with opportunity. "We give advice to different companies to start work in Iraq because the country is like a well, a deep well - whatever you put in it, it will not be full. At the same time, the Iraqi market is very wide."
Sharif added: "For 40 years not many companies have come to Iraq because of the sanctions and because Iraq was blocked. There is need in all sectors, and there is a lot of money and capital flowing into Iraq."
One businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the international media is partly to blame for the misperceptions of the conditions in Iraq. He explained the situation to a small group of reporters at the event: "In Iraq, there's a bit of a problem with journalism. What you all report, and what we see, it's not sometimes the same thing.
There's a difference between what I see on CNN, and what I see right next door. The difference is night and day. They dwell on the negative, and we in Iraq, especially all over the country, we are dwelling on the positive."
Beirut,04 11 2005
The Daily Star