Iraq opens doors for business at London conference

Iraq opens doors for business at London conference London - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will appeal to the international business community on Thursday for greater trade and investment in his country, at a major investors' conference in London.

Al-Maliki, at the head of a cabinet-level Iraqi delegation including oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani, is to meet first with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in the morning, when a partnership agreement between the two countries is expected to be announced.

He is then to deliver the keynote address at the Invest Iraq Conference, in front of some 520 delegates from British, Iraqi and international companies, including Shell, KPMG and HSBC.

British Business Minister Peter Mandelson is also due to address the meeting.

The Iraqi government is on a push to resuscitate the country's war-damaged industry, provide jobs and rebuild the country's wrecked infrastructure.

The commission previously said it will offer at the conference a map of 500 investment opportunities in 11 sectors, including petroleum, infrastructure, finance and banking services, and tourism.

Dr Sami al-Araji, Chairman of the Iraq National Investment Commission, said in opening the conference that "Iraq is the last great green-field investment opportunity on earth. There is virtually no sector that is not in need of direct investment."

Although the killing in Iraq is now a fraction of the worst periods during the civil war, the conference comes amid a current upturn in violence.

On Wednesday, at least 43 people were killed in three car-bomb attacks in the Baghdad neighbourhood of Sadr City, and nearly 200 people have died in bomb attacks since April 23.

The US military is due to begin withdrawing from Iraqi cities in June, while the British Army is on Thursday preparing for its final withdrawal from the south of the country.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said in his opening remarks that "Iraqis have rejected extremism and violence. Despite intermittent flare-ups, violent incidents are at their lowest level since the fall of the regime."

"Jobs and services are the best counter-insurgency strategy," he added.

Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the vast majority of large-scale industry and commerce in the country was dominated by the state under the Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, many of the country's industrial concerns were mothballed or dismantled by the US administration.

At present, the majority of private foreign investment in Iraq comes from the Gulf states and the Middle East region.

After the London conference, al-Maliki is set to fly to Paris to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other officials. (dpa)