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American Firms Line Up for Kurdistan, as Erbil Mulls US Ties

By Judit Neurink 26/2/2014
Pennington (left) with Qubad Talabani. Photo: Judit Neurink
Pennington (left) with Qubad Talabani. Photo: Judit Neurink

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - Roll in the American brands! A US delegation for franchise businesses will be visiting the Kurdistan Region of Iraq soon, to see if after Pizza Hut, Cinnabon/Carvel Ice Cream and Ace Hardware others can also find a foothold in this secure region of Iraq.

The American Consul General Joseph Pennington gave the news at a reception of the United States-Kurdistan Business Council (USKBC) at the Rotana Hotel in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil. Whether hamburger giant MacDonald’s is amongst the interested visitors, he could not say. But Marriot and Hyatt Hotels are already setting up shop in Kurdistan.

The consul general was one of the speakers at the reception, organized to connect American businesses working in Iraqi Kurdistan to those officials and others who can help them move along. The USKBC is a trade-organization with some 20 members, set up two years ago to improve trade and commerce between the US and Iraqi Kurdistan.

“The story is getting out about the opportunities here,” said David Michael Tafuri of the USKBC. “The region is going to be wealthy. American products are greatly liked, and many Kurds want more of them and can now afford that.”

In contrast with the major role the Americans played in freeing the Kurds in 2003 from the regime of Saddam Hussein, on the business front they have been overtaken by Turks and Lebanese, and even by Britain, the declared partner of choice of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

“I don’t really know what that means,” said Pennington when reminded of the British status. About the fact that Turkey is the biggest investor in Kurdistan, and Lebanon one of the most active in the business sector, he said: “We cannot compete with neighboring countries. But we have other advantages. We offer quality, design and technology.”

American companies in Kurdistan are mainly active in oil and gas, security and building. Pennington expects these activities to broaden in the future. “There is a lot of interest in the States for doing business here. But as it is Iraq, security plays a role and companies are cautious. Of course, here are fewer attacks than elsewhere in Iraq, but there still are threats.”

The reception was held at a moment of diplomatic tension between the US and Kurdistan, with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani cancelling a visit to the White House over the fact that Kurdistan’s two main political parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan -- still feature on a terrorism blacklist from the days they resisted Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Kurdish politicians have shown frustration over the lack of support from Washington in their conflict with Baghdad over oil revenues, which has recently led to Baghdad withholding Kurdistan’s constitutional part of the national budget.

Although none of the diplomats at the reception wanted to comment on this hot issue, Qubad Talabani, the KRG Minister for Coordination and Follow Up, voiced some frustration. Until a year-and-a-half ago he was the KRG representative in Washington, where he set up the business council.

“I’d like the United States to see us as an asset, but they still see us through the Iraqi lens,” he said when asked for his dearest wish for the relations with the US. “What we do here has implications in Turkey, in Syria and on the oil markets. Our relationship should reflect that.”

Talabani said he was saddened by the fact that over a year after his departure from the US, his former position still is not filled. The vacuum this has caused is seen as one of the reasons for the decline in the quality of relations between the US and the Kurds.

“The vacancy should not be seen as an indication of how much importance we give to the US-Kurdistan relations,” he protested. He stressed it is a matter of “internal Kurdish relations,” thus indicating the problem is part of the conflicts inside PUK and with the KDP that are hampering formation of a new cabinet.

“There were two candidates for the position, but the procedure has been taken over by other events. It will definitely be addressed in the eighth cabinet,” Talabani said.

He showed disappointment that the issue of the blacklist has not been solved, pointing out that nobody in Kurdistan knew that it existed. “It is not even a physical list. The former South African president Nelson Mandela was on it, too. They managed to remove him some time before he died.”

Talabani stressed that the US administration “agrees that we should not be on it.” Yet, the procedure to get off the list leads through the American Congress and needs legislation to be amended or newly inserted. “We have fallen into the game of politics, and that has little to do with what’s going on between KDP and PUK.”


Qaraman | 26/2/2014
Why bother with them now? 1. their policies are failing everywhere in the Middle East 2. because of that their power in the region is diminishing. 3. they are not Kurd friendly, never have been, and they don't even hide it, 4. for independence it's Iran and Turkey that needs to be convinced not the US 5.the whole world is interested in our marked now, so it worked out pretty well for us. The article should have mentioned how the US was offered first privilege to Kurdistans marked after the war, all of it! but the US government actively discouraged US companies to do business in KRG. Even six years after the war when Baghdad was giving all the big oil contracts to the Chines, Indians, Russians etc was not enough to make them reassess, even then the KRG offer stood yet they ignored it completely. The volume of export and services from Turkey, Iran and Lebanon alone to KRG is around 15 billion $ a year, that's without the oil sector that will be up and running soon, that figure will easily triple in a few years. After everyone has established themselves and have secured a piece of the pie the Americans are hoping for scraps, well done!
Muraz Adzhoev | 26/2/2014
No, they do not see KAR "through the Iraqi lens". The US administration pragmatically uses "geopolitical lens" and will support the Kurdish people in Iraq only in case, if the local authorities clearly express the final and reasonable position of KAR and confidently take adequate actions and measures, promoting the political and socio-economic development program in conditions of freedom and independence of the South Kurdistan. The Kurdish nation should and will have at least one sovereign state in this World. Let it be today within the geographical borders of South Kurdistan in particular. "Why not?"- that is the answer is to be expected in Washington, soon after KAR officially declares the state independence of the South Kurdistan from an Iraq. At last it happened, that officials in KAR have started serious move towards offering the formation of confederation in a new Iraqi state or, more likely,the full independence of South Kurdistan.
Qaraman | 26/2/2014
Forgot to mention 6. their products are not competitive in prise or quality, even Turkish products are better and cheaper. That goes for their weapons as well which are overrated and way over prised, for the cost of one Abraham tank you could buy 3 T-90 Russian tanks which are just as good, probably better, or 5 Chines tanks 7. Hell no to their fast food! they themselves are struggling with it because it has caused an obesity and diabetes epidemic but we want them to establish here? never mind the fact it tastes terrible. If a tourist or foreigner is visiting Kurdistan I'm pretty sure they would want to experience Kurdish food instead of that crap, they have spread it around the world like cancer.
Akar Kurdistani | 27/2/2014
If the US loves kurd that much, how come they give weapons to maliki so they can take more of kurdish borders and kill innocent kurds? Once US fooled the kurds in 1991, again in 2004. Kurds will look like idiot for trusting american goverment in 2014. Don't get me wrong guys, I love american people, but the goverment sell weapon to all the Kurdish enemies, and later will be used against the Kurds as always. If you watch the news even the american people have given up on their goverment! do you blame them?
Artoshy | 27/2/2014
we should have not ignore ours self that all suffering dilemma and disaster in the past caused by USA and its key allies UK . so the super power always has its agenda and blueprint for next decade and century . what we suffer from past century we should considered it and take advantage from that and try not replicate that error again and used as lessen to prevent replicating it for next century as we all know that proverb saying there is no permanent friends and permanent enemy but there is permanent interest . so we have to be careful in dealing with super power (USA& UK)and mixing our interest with there interest to be easy for us take advantage from this golden opportunity otherwise we will lose what we gained.
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