Kurdish region open for business despite tensions in the north
- 30 Oct 07, 03:14 PM
ERBIL, NORTHERN IRAQ - The Erbil International Trade Fair opened yesterday. Representatives of western brands like Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Mercedes Benz, Sony and Massey Ferguson are pitching for business from local companies and investors. It seemed astonishing to browse the high-tech gadgets and displays and meet agents sent from London, New York, Beirut and Dubai.
Why? Drive just a few hours from Erbil, the regional capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, and you reach cities like Mosul and Kirkuk, still suffering from daily killings and bomb attacks. Three hours to the north is the Turkish/Iraqi border where troops from both countries are massing, awaiting a threatened Turkish incursion against PKK bases nearby.
But the Kurdish region of Iraq is open for business. Gleaming shopping malls and apartment complexes are being built. Western firms and Arab consortiums see the region as an emerging market with potential as a gateway to the rest of Iraq. If and when sectarian violence cools, the Kurds will be ready to capitalise.
But the tension this week with the Turks to the north has revealed a dilemma for the Kurds. On one hand, the fierce sense of Kurdish identity promotes some sympathy for the PKK fighters hiding in the mountainous border area. There are also suspicions here that the Turkish government is more interested in challenging the growing power of the Kurdish Regional Government than tackling the PKK.
On the other hand, the region’s economic boom has been kick started with Turkish cash. The malls, hotels, airports and housing developments are mainly Turkish funded and built. Most of the goods on the shelves are Turkish imports. Trade across the one border crossing was worth $2.6bn last year.
The British educated director of the Kurdish Regional Government’s Foreign Relations Department admits to worries. Falah Mustafa Bakir says he worries that conflict with the Turks could undo his campaign to convince the world that his region is “another Iraq”. As we spoke, a convoy of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters was heading to the border as a precaution against a Turkish invasion.
“We are used to defending ourselves throughout our history,” he said. “We will do it again if necessary.” But he knows that the next few weeks could determine whether next year’s trade fair will be so well attended.