Worried that US companies are falling behind on doing business with Iraq and are missing out on commercial opportunities, the US Chamber of Commerce has stepped up its efforts to facilitate links with the Middle East country. The chamber is setting up a presence on the ground in Baghdad to help US businesses join up with Iraqi partners and win contracts.

On September 28, the chamber hosted an Iraq-focused event at its headquarters in Washington, DC, and plans to lead a trade mission to Baghdad, Erbil and Basra in November.

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The Iraq Business Initiative (IBI), along with the Kurdistan Region Investment Task Force, was launched in June 2008, under the chamber’s Middle East Affairs Department. In the past year, the IBI hosted a number of business delegations and economic stakeholders from Iraq.

The US government is pushing investment into Iraq as a means of helping stabilise the country seven years after the US-led invasion as well as to ensure its companies gain commercial advantages. At the September event, Michael H Corbin, deputy assistant secretary at the US State Department, stressed US commitment to Iraq despite fears over disengagement after combat troops were removed in August.

The US government's business-support agencies have been responding to calls for more and better coverage for trade and investment in Iraq. The Export-Import Bank announced this summer it would begin financing sales of US exports to Iraqi buyers in both the public and private sectors, after having previously been closed to Iraq. Bijan R Kian, a member of the board of directors, told attendees at the Chamber of Commerce event that Ex-Im is “open for business in Iraq” and eagerly awaiting applications from US exporters. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation is already financing projects in Iraq.

Among the US companies to have made recent greenfield investments into Iraq is Honeywell, which makes transport systems, aviation and space automation and control systems. The company announced in October that it has opened a full-service office in Baghdad and is planning to open other offices in southern and northern Iraq over the next few years. fDi Markets, which tracks crossborder greenfield investment, has recorded 19 US companies as having made investments in Iraq since 2003. But the most active investors in Iraq, by number of projects, are France’s Lafarge, Royal Dutch Shell (headquartered in the Netherlands but registered in the UK) and Orascom Group from Egypt.