Bankers Flock to Iraq Despite Dangers

According to a report in the Financial Times, violence is not deterring investment bankers hungry for potentially lucrative deals in Iraq. Over the past year, a trickle of visits from intrepid bankers has turned into a steady stream of senior executives from some of the world's largest financial institutions.

"The international banks can smell the opportunities," says Shwan Taha, an Iraqi who formerly worked for the family office of hedge fund manager George Soros, and returned to Iraq in 2007 to set up Rabee Securities, now one of the country's largest brokerages. "More and more bankers are flying in, and more will continue to come."

The head of a major private security company says he has seen a noticeable increase in visits by investment bankers in the past four to five months, and offers to provide secure accommodation and personal security details, including close protection. He says, "the biggest single threat to those kind of people is really kidnap - that's obviously a fairly nasty outcome".

It's the oil revenues and reconstruction that are enticing bankers. Some estimate that the total bill for investments in oil and gas infrastructure, electricity, healthcare, sewage and roads will total more than $500bn in the coming decades.

The planned listing of Iraq's three phone companies could almost double the market's size of the stock exchange (currently about $3.5bn) if they go through as proposed.

Yet despite all its promise, bankers concede that Iraq is fraught with potential pitfalls.

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