Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Interview with Dr. Noori Othman

Dr. Noori Othman

Chairman of the Kurdistan Board of Investment and Head of Coordination and Follow Up (Kurdistan Board of Investment)

Dr. Noori Othman

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges for the past two years. However, on his speech, the last 1st of May, Prime Minister Barzani expressed that “war and terrorism have been pushed away and the Region has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. What are the implications of this new era for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq?

We have faced terrorism and war, as well as big movements of people, which entailed chaos and violence. However, under the leadership of President Barzani and the effort of the Peshmerga forces in the frontline, we have shown to the international community that this is a strong Kurdistan that has resisted the aggression and has maintained its territory secured.

Historically, when the Baghdad government held a strong position has attacked Kurdistan, and whenever they are weak they choose the path of negotiation. Unfortunately, Baghdad has broken up the Constitution on several occasions and has claimed made up excuses, such as that we were exporting oil without their consent when President Maliki was in office, to cut off the budget to Kurdistan on several occasions. Now again, we did not get a single penny for the Peshmergas to fight terrorism.

After all these experiences, we have the right to seek our own destiny, we have a big nation with our legislation, our land and security forces, resources and people, we have everything except our own country.

President Masoud Barzani has recently announced that the referendum on independence is due to take place on September 25th. As Minister Falah mentioned in our meeting, it is a crucial step towards the creation of a new independent state. What would be the implications of an eventual independence for the Kurdistan Region?

We want to have a positive relationship with Iraq if independence is achieved, the same as with Iran and Turkey, and we will make it clear during the negotiations. We are just listening to the demands of our people and acting in consequence. Historically, the Kurds have never attacked anyone, all we did was to fight in self-defend for our survival. Therefore, it is our right to decide our own fate and we will do it peacefully and in negotiation with our neighbors.

The Board of Investment was established in 2006 in order to foster the direct foreign investment in the Region. What are the benefits that an international investor can find in the Kurdistan Region?

According to our law of investment, there are a lot of incentives for investors, such as property ownership, tax exemptions of periods up to ten years and the possibility to transfer money abroad legally and officially. Kurdistan is a virgin area for business that offers plenty of opportunities for growth, and the government led by Hon. Nechirvan Barzani is emplacing policies that position the nation as a competitive actor in the international context, especially in terms of security. We have overcome all our problems since the fall down of Saddam’s regime and since then we have encouraged foreign investment. As an example, since 2003 we have received more than ten billions of dollars in investments.

Stability has been historically the main strength of the Region to attract investment, especially compared to the rest of Iraq. However, since 2014, the general perception abroad is negative regarding security issues. What are the main investment opportunities in the Region?

Oil and gas are, of course, the main source of revenues of the Kurdistan Region, however, this government is determined to diversify the economy by creating the opportunities to develop other fields, especially agriculture and tourism. The Kurdistan’s soil is rich and really suitable for agriculture, one of the best not just in the Middle East but also all over the world. What we need is the proper technology, such as irrigations systems, and that is where the international investors play a key role. As an example of the potential, three years ago Kurdistan was importing potato, and after encouraging the local production we are now exporting it by thousands of tons.

The priority now is to design a roadmap for investment in Kurdistan, giving priority to agriculture, industry, and tourism. In the coming months we are going to announce the collaboration between the government and private companies with expertise in the investment sector, so we can collect information from all the departments and identify the key needs and opportunities for each sector and region.

In 2014, there were more than 2,700 foreign companies in the Kurdistan Region. A large proportion of those enterprises came from Turkey, but there were other countries investing intensively in the Region. As an example, the UAE investments in the region at that time stood at 2.5 billion USD. In which other countries are you aiming to promote the Kurdistan Region as an investment destination?

We want to encourage foreign investment from all around the world for two main reasons. The first one is obviously economic prosperity, to develop the market and the creation of wealth and opportunities. The second one is to ensure the future protection of Kurdistan. It is not that we don’t trust Baghdad’s government, but given our complicated past, the fact of having international capital in our territory will guarantee that those countries will protect us, as they protect their interests.

The Real Estate and construction industries have also registered a deep downturn in the last two years and many projects have been either stopped or canceled. How can the Board contribute to the creation of the appropriate environment to recover this sector?

The Real Estate industry has maybe constructed units above the needs of the region, both in terms of quantity and prices, actually, the prices have come down by 40% in the last years. Since 2016, this industry is growing again, but this time in line with the real needs. However, for the promotion of this sector, as well as the whole nation, it is a must for us to develop a banking system. Without credit and financial resources, it is really difficult to invest in the construction sector or in any other else. Again, at this point, we are tied by the Authority of the Federal Government and the Central Iraqi Bank and for some political reasons they don’t allow us to do anything.

Dr. Noori, you are one of the architects of the Kurdistan Region’s economic revolution and now you are Chairman of the Board of Investment and Minister for Coordination and Follow-up.  What do you feel most proud of in your career?

I am most proud in my life of being a Peshmerga and to serve my nation. I have done in the frontline, in the rear-guard under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister to assist in the humanitarian crisis that brought millions of refugees to Kurdistan. Other people will judge my professional achievements.

Business Review Readers include the most influential business leaders and top decision makers in the world. As a conclusion to this interview, what is the final message that you would send regarding the future independent Kurdistan?

We will pursue independence, as our previous generations did; it is our dream to have our own country, our own passport. We have a brilliant future as an independent nation, we are rich in resources and capable and active people, but we need freedom. The more independence we have gained, the more we have developed Kurdistan while the other parts of Iraq were stagnated. Therefore, we ask for the support of the international community to help as to succeed as an interdependent country.