The “Invest Iraq, London 2009” conference will be held from April 30 to May 1 at the Landmark Hotel under the patronage of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his British counterpart Gordon Brown, and will be an opportunity to present investment opportunities in several fields including oil, gas, industry, housing, infrastructure, banking services, tourism, communications, and agriculture.  The conference, in which more than 250 international companies will participate, will be attended by ministers of the two countries and a large number of Iraqi businessmen.  The head of Iraq’s National Investment Commission (NIC), Dr. Sami Raouf Al-Aaraji said that it has prepared investment plans for more than 500 projects.

Given the plummeting price of oil, Iraq faces a grave revenue crisis in 2010 that analysts speculate could derail most of its blue-sky projects.  Ahead of the London visit, Iraq’s finance minister, Baqir Jabr al-Zubeidi, admitted that the country faces a large budget shortfall, adding that oil revenues were already down by $4.5bn (£3bn) on projections made for the financial year and will likely fall further. “This time last year, in May 2008, the export market was 2m barrels per day and the oil price was around $130 a barrel.  Until now, we haven’t this year reached $50. The price is hovering around $42-$43 and exports are also right down. In my view, if we stay at less than $50 and less than 2m barrels per day, we will have to produce a supplementary budget well into debt.”

In the short-term, government employees may be asked to take a 20% cut in salaries, while several ministries have already frozen employment plans, raising questions about the viability of the integration into public sector jobs of up to 90,000 former militants

“[Iraq] is still in a stage of building up private sector awareness,” said Britain’s ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Prentice.  “[It] needs a wide education campaign to re-program 30 years of thinking.  Public-private sector partnerships are still at an early phase.  Successful joint ventures and public-private enterprises will be the agents for change.”

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