Iraq: Open for Business

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". . .companies that wait too long may discover they are too late"

A milestone in the Iraq war passed this week largely unnoticed here in a capital consumed more recently by Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, not to mention the economy or healthcare.

Hundreds of Iraqi officials—the largest delegation from Iraq ever to visit the U.S.—gathered in a hotel near Capitol Hill Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss neither security nor American troop levels. Rather they came to promote something that was once, and might still be, more of a hope than a reality: investment.

"Why invest in Iraq?" Sami al-Araji, the head of Iraq's national investment commission, asked the gathering on Tuesday. "There has never been a better time to invest in Iraq. Iraq has emerged from the conflicts of the past with tremendous potential for investment from local, regional and global companies."

"Iraq," is, as one brochure declared, "Open for Business." Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki came, underscoring the government's commitment to the notion, or promotion. So did the ministers of oil, trade, finance and agriculture, and governors of the country's provinces, all of whom promoted investment opportunities. Anbar, once the heart of the Sunni insurgency? "Hidden opportunities."

"Business and investors can work freely in any province they want," Mr. Maliki said in an assertion, the veracity of which turns on one's definition of the word "freely." "There are no hot zones in Iraq."

President Obama's national security adviser, James L. Jones, addressed the conference, as did Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who practically threatened investors not to tarry.

"In the words of an Arab proverb, 'Dawn does not come twice to awaken a man—or a woman,'" she said. "The world is watching for every opportunity to invest in Iraq, and companies that wait too long may discover they are too late."

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