Published on Tuesday, October 14, 2003 by the Guardian/UK
Firms Get Ready for Business in Iraq
by Ewen MacAskill
The companies, mainly oil and banking, are being invited by the US and British governments to move in as soon as security is restored. The fast-food chain McDonald's, which has a branch in most parts of the world, was predicted by the conference organizers to open in Baghdad next year.
Brian Wilson, Tony Blair's special representative on trade and reconstruction in Iraq, told the conference: "A major drawback for companies wishing to visit Iraq is, of course, the continuing problems with the security situation."
He added that the bombing of the Baghdad Hotel on Sunday had "provided another grim reminder of the dangers which exist".
Among the Americans attending were the energy giant, ExxonMobil, Delta Airlines and the American Hospital Group.
McDonald's is to attend a follow-up conference at Portland, Maine, next month.
Rubar Sandi, the chairman of Corporate Bank and founding director of the US-Iraq Business Alliance, said McDonald's was "not yet" ready to go to Baghdad.
Mr Sandi, one of the owners of the Baghdad Hotel, said of McDonald's: "I have spoken to the top management but probably [they will not go until] next year. That would be a sign of normality."
The conference - Doing Business in Iraq: Kickstarting the Private Sector - was organized by the US-Iraq Business Alliance, set up in June last year. Its supporters say the conference has attracted the support of 145 multinationals. The alliance has close contacts with the Pentagon.
About two dozen people from Voices UK, a group opposed to the war in Iraq and which campaigned against pre-war sanctions imposed on Iraq, protested outside. A spokeswoman, Emma Sangster, said: "A neo-liberal economy is being imposed on an already impoverished country with unprecedented haste and with absolutely no democratic process."
Ms Sangster, who visited Iraq last year, said: "Instead of a reconstruction process that involves Iraqi companies, who have the necessary experience to do the job properly, foreign companies will be buying up sectors of the Iraq economy for a quick profit."
But Mr Wilson, a former minister with the trade department and the Foreign Office who has been asked by Mr Blair to encourage investment in Iraq, said outside the conference: "What they are essentially saying is that Saddam Hussein should still be there and, in that case, no one would be talking about investment and reconstruction."
Addressing the conference, Mr Wilson said: "Let me say straightaway that this conflict in Iraq, now thankfully behind us, was not about business or about oil.
"It was about liberating the people of Iraq and giving them the chance to enjoy a life free from tyranny."
He said the aim was for Iraqi oil to benefit the Iraqi people. "The operation of this sector, which is so core to Iraq's future, should be returned to the Iraqi people as soon as practically possible."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003