Kurdistan’s new envoy to Washington has sought to persuade American businessmen that the threat from Islamic State (ISIS) militants is under control and that Iraq’s northern region is a safe destination for investment.
In one of her first official duties as the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) envoy to the US, Bayan Sami Rahman met members of the US Kurdistan Business Council (USKBC) on Thursday as part of a drive to drum up business in the turbulent region.
“The KRG is currently at war with ISIS, it is not a fight we chose,” Rahman said. “Since August of last year, Kurdish forces have both countered this menace and have retaken almost all of the Kurdish territory it had previously conquered.”
Businesses have been scared off a Kurdish region that had enjoyed years of relative calm until last year’s ISIS assault through western Iraq. Kurdish forces have driven the Sunni Muslim militants back to about 45 kilometers from the semi-autonomous zone’s capital, Erbil.
US firms have been particularly concerned by ISIS beheadings of captured Western journalists and aid workers, which the group released as online videos. Some companies have adopted new security rules at oil fields and other foreign-run facilities in Kurdistan.
While firms from neighboring Turkey and Iran are the largest investors in Kurdistan, the US plays a bigger business role in the region than other Western states. An annual US investment of hundreds of millions of dollars is expected to exceed $1 billion in coming years, USKBC said.
Gen. James Jones, a former US National Security Advisor and the head of USKBC, said foreign firms could still make money there and called for the US government “to continue supporting American participation and business in the region.”
“The USKBC is working diligently to make sure that members receive a positive return on investment in the region,” he said on Thursday. “We believe that US investment in Kurdistan will continue to strengthen the bonds between Americans, Kurds and Iraqis.”
US firms operating in Kurdistan are dominated by venture capitalists and exploratory oil and gas players, including Afren, Amira Industries, Aspect Energy and Excalibur Ventures. Many have experience in high-risk and challenging environments.
In December, Kurdistan’s Minister of Natural Resources Ashti Hawrami said the region was seeing a rise in oil exports and was edging towards economic self-sufficiency, with oil sales expected to reach 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
As USKBC members met on Thursday, US President Barack Obama spoke at a multi-nation meeting on countering violent extremism in Washington about US-led efforts to defeat ISIS, which is also known by the acronyms IS and ISIL.
“In Iraq and Syria, our coalition of some 60 nations, including Arab nations, will not relent in our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL,” he said. “Many of our governments will be deepening our cooperation against foreign terrorist fighters by sharing more information and making it harder for fighters to travel to and from Syria and Iraq.”
Obama says ISIS can be routed with airstrikes and by arming Kurds, Iraqis and moderate Syrian opposition fighters as ground forces. Critics say he over-depends on air power, lacks reliable allies and has no solution to Syria’s civil war.