Prime Minister al-Maliki to US Chamber of Commerce: Iraq is open for business

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tuesday that his country is welcoming all U.S. corporations with open arms as U.S. troops leave at the end of the month.

Al-Maliki said U.S. corporations in all economic sectors could find opportunities to help rebuild in Iraq, in a speech delivered with many business leaders in attendance.

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“We are at the threshold of a new phase in the relationship in between the new companies, based on mutual interests and mutual desire,” al-Maliki said, according to an interpreter. “It is now not the generals, but it is the corporations and businessmen who will be in the front of this stage.”

Al-Maliki’s comments echoed those he and President Obama made at the White House Monday, reflecting the new U.S. role in Iraq after the military finishes completes withdrawal at the end of the month.

Security concerns remain as Iraq takes sole control of securing its country from terrorism and other threats. U.S. generals had pushed for a small military presence to remain in the country, but Iraq would not grant U.S. soldiers immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

On Tuesday, however, the talk was all about investment, not security.

Commerce Secretary John Bryson said that Iraq’s economy has the potential to grow at a quicker pace than China in the upcoming years.

Bryson said Commerce was holding a “matchmaking” event for Iraqi and American businesses as a component of the prime minister’s U.S. trip.

“Today it is the private sector, not military, that must build the bridge to Iraq’s stability and prosperity,” Bryson said.

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U.S. corporations do not have as big of a footprint in Iraq as some other countries, something the Chamber hopes to change, said Lionel Johnson, Chamber vice president for Middle East and North Africa.

Johnson said there are opportunities for growth in Iraq beyond oil, and some of the biggest industries include healthcare, construction and port development.

Al-Maliki told the business community he wanted a larger American private-sector presence.

“There are a lot of American corporations in Iraq,” al-Maliki said. “However, we are not satisfied with the number of American corporations in Iraq.”