Spoils of Iraq war evade US and UK

Written by The Financial Times | Updated: Dec 17 2011, 05:30am hrs
By Lina Saigol in London

After almost nine years, more than $1tn and 4,487 American and 179 British lives lost, the US is withdrawing from Iraq, leaving the countrys economic spoils to nations that neither supported nor participated in the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Turkey, Iran, China, South Korea, Italy and Arab states have already invested billions in Iraq, far outpacing the US and UK in every non-oil sector, from transport and telecoms to housing and construction.

US and British groups won early, lucrative contracts in oil and gas, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shells bid to develop Iraqs huge West Qurna oilfield. Beyond energy, however, investment is modest and Iraqi officials have expressed disappointment in private-sector interest from the two countries that ended a dictatorship and cracked open its free market.

We are not satisfied with the number of American companies in Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, told the US Chamber of Commerce this month. A former US diplomat in Baghdad described the investment landscape this way: There appears to be almost no correlation between the countries which participated in the war and those now trying to develop the country.

To cash in on Iraq, companies have to navigate a maze of bureaucracy, violence and corruption. But the French, who vehemently opposed the war - in which tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives - have not blinked at the challenges. As well as investing in telecoms and building two car plants, construction materials maker Lafarge produces 60 per cent of the cement sold in Iraq.

Gala Riani, IHS Global Insight senior analyst for the Middle East, said US companies had held back because of on-the-ground risks and lingering sensitivities about the origins of the March 2003 invasion. The US government did not push hard enough for American companies to invest, Ms Riani said, because Washington was seeking to dispel suggestions that the war had commercial ends.

Carne Ross, a former UK diplomat who heads the non-profit advisory group Independent Diplomat, said that some of the investment in Iraq signals a fresh approach. The Iraqis are pursuing economic relations with countries, such as Iran, that had been their enemies but are now close

The Financial Times Limited 2011