Iraq Business News recently had the pleasure of interviewing the Kurdistan Regional Government's High Representative to the United Kingdom, Ms Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman.
Iraq Business News: Ms Abdul Rahman, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. May I ask you firstly for your opinion about the ongoing protests in the Middle East?
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman: These are certainly interesting times all across the Middle East region, and on the whole I view it as a positive development. There is a wave of demand for reform, and those who want to see positive change are being strengthened by recent events.
IBN: To what extent are these demonstrations relevant to Iraq?
BSAR: The nature of the demonstrations have shown how different Iraq is from other countries in this part of the world; it has a democratically elected government, so the demands are not for the overthrow of a dictator, but for stronger measures against corruption and for better public services. In Kurdistan, the demonstrations have been mainly in Sulaimaniya. Masoud Barzani, who was elected as President of the Kurdistan Region less than two years ago with 70% of the votes cast in a high-turnout election., has also called for reform, and for early provincial elections in the Kurdistan Region. We may also have early parliamentary elections. So the government is taking the demonstrators seriously. The Parliament has and continues to meet protesters to understand and take on board their grievances.
IBN: Have the protests had any impact on business in the Region?
BSAR: In terms of international business, I can only speak about what we have experienced through our office in the UK. So far we have not had a single negative response from a British or international businessman or company. When the Middle East Association (MEA) ran a trade mission to Kurdistan recently, the issue of protests didn't even come up.
IBN: What are the main challenges facing foreign businesses that want to work in the Region?
BSAR: I'd say the main challenge is one of perception – many people still have an out-dated view of Iraq, with exaggerated fears of violence. There is also a misconception that doing business in Kurdistan precludes doing business in the rest of Iraq, and this is simply not the case; it is no different from doing business in Scotland and also in England, for example. We would also appreciate an improvement in the visa process for Iraqi business people trying to visit the UK, as this is currently hampering trade between the two countries.
But there are many things that outweigh these challenges. Only this month, FDI Magazine which is a subsidiary of the Financial Times, ranked Erbil (the Kurdish capital) in fifth place in a list of the top Middle East cities with potential for foreign direct investment. This places Erbil ahead of Muscat and Riyadh.
IBN: To what extent is investment in Kurdistan dominated by oil and gas?