War-battered Iraq 'open for investors'
KUWAIT CITY - War-battered Iraq sought Tuesday to attract international investors to rebuild the country after defeating the Islamic State group, offering hundreds of projects and touting extensive legal guarantees.
"Iraq is open for investors," declared Sami al-Araji, chairman of Iraq's National Investment Commission, on the second day of a major reconstruction conference in Kuwait.
Baghdad says it needs nearly $90 billion to rebuild after a three-year war against IS which devastated homes, schools, hospitals and economic infrastructure, displacing millions of people.
World Bank officials joined Iraqi government representatives on Tuesday in Kuwait City to seek pledges from more than 2,000 representatives of international firms in attendance.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the conference that much work was needed to rebuild Iraq and "modernise" its economy.
"It is equally important to show that ISIS and its violent ideology have failed," he said, using an alternative acronym for IS.
"A government that is inclusive, accountable and transparent builds a society that can counter extremist ideologies."
Araji said Iraq, which has been either at war or under international sanctions since 1980, is offering projects in almost every field of the economy.
He presented more than 200 projects open to investors, including oil refineries, massive housing and industrial ventures, transport projects and at least four power plants.
Investors will enjoy a high level of legal protection, Araji said, adding that Iraq is also planning to establish four economic zones.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for the entire country to benefit from "reconstruction, stabilisation and national reconciliation".
"Reconstruction efforts should not leave out any region or community, especially those who have been marginalised in Iraq's recent history," he said.
"I am thinking in particular of Kurdistan, which took more than its share of the burden and the sacrifices" in the fight against IS.
Tensions between Baghdad and Iraq's Kurds have been high following a controversial September referendum on Kurdish independence, which prompted the central government to seize back oil-rich Kirkuk province from Kurdish forces.
Iraq said its 10-year reconstruction plan will cost $88.2 billion, of which $22 billion was required immediately.
Non-governmental organisations on Monday pledged $330 million, but the main commitments are expected to be made by about 70 countries on Wednesday, the last day of the conference.
Iraqi and World Bank officials on Tuesday talked up legal guarantees available in post-IS Iraq, pointing to an investment law that offers ownership, unlimited cash transfers and tax breaks, among other benefits.
Nizar Nasser Hussein, the head of the legal department at the National Investment Commission, said the latest version of the law does not distinguish between foreign and Iraqi investors.
"Foreign investors can establish Iraqi companies," he said, adding that investors would be given lease contracts for 50 years, renewable for a similar period.
In addition, investors will be exempt from customs duties and income tax for 10-15 years, Hussein said.
Araji said investors in Iraq will find "high risks, but high returns".