Iraqi Trade Delegation Visits Memphis

By Bill Dries

An Iraqi trade delegation in Memphis this week got a look at the FedEx Memphis SuperHub and met with the local Iraqi community.

Naufel Alhassan, commercial counselor for Iraq’s U.S. embassy, also met Monday, April 21, with leaders of the Greater Memphis Chamber.

“Iraq is booming, emerging from ash after decades of dictatorship and war,” said Alhassan. “Our emerging democracy is working.”

Alhassan’s itinerary has included stops in larger U.S. cities as well as talks with large businesses.

But he said he is also emphasizing the role for small- and medium-sized businesses in trade between the two countries.

“They can do a lot of projects in Iraq in transportation industry and housing sector,” he said, citing a World Bank estimate that Iraq needs 3 million housing units. “Our population is growing. We’ve got a lot of opportunities.”

A lot of that opportunity is in oil production, which is at 3.5 million barrels a day. The country has a goal of increasing that to 9 million barrels a day over several years.

Iraq also imports wheat and rice and other commodities from the U.S.

During the 1980s, Nizhar Hamdoon, Iraq’s deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. under Saddam Hussein, made several trade missions to Memphis at a time when Iraq and Iran were at war, with the U.S. backing Iraq.

When that war ended, U.S. trade sanctions began.

Post-Saddam, Alhassan said, Iraq is making strides in what he called the “democracy club” including the possible privatization of some state-run corporations and an election in the next week.

He also acknowledged concerns about safety that some business leaders may have.

“We have no choice but to go forward and build our country. If business decision-makers just stick with that image of Iraq in 2004 and 2005 where we were on the edge of civil war, they will not come to Iraq,” he said. “The reality is that thousands of businessmen and women come to Iraq.”

He also pointed to trade pacts recently between the city of Houston and Basra, Iraq.

“The reality is Iraq is doing business all around the world. … There is a safety concern everywhere,” Alhassan said. “We will have that challenge for a while until other countries who invest realize it’s good for them and for us.”