My Kurdistan is only part of Iraq truly open for business
The Kurds survived Saddam. Now they’re keen to rebuild their economy, says Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman
Finding new markets for exports, investment and trade is of increasing importance to businesses in Northern Ireland. Finding one that is already well-disposed towards you and where English is widely spoken would be a useful bonus.
Such a place is to be found in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
We also appreciate the quality and expertise of your companies and institutions and wish to be your allies.
I am, therefore, in Northern Ireland to meet a wide range of businesses, academics, unions and others to convey the commercial and cultural opportunities in my part of Iraq and to encourage mutual understanding.
The Kurdistan region is about the size of Switzerland with a population of five million. It is now the safest and most stable part of Iraq. It wasn't always so.
Saddam sought to eliminate the Kurds, razed thousands of our villages and murdered up to 200,000 men, women and children.
We rose up against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and were protected from his genocidal menace by British and American airplanes until Saddam was ousted in 2003.
We have used our freedom to build democratic institutions. We have no insurgency and no foreign soldier has been killed or injured in the past seven years.
We have a good record in protecting our Christian minority, an issue of interest here. Representatives of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Kurdistan at Westminster visited the region in January and focused on the position of Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan where many have fled from the rest of Iraq.
They commended the region for "its generosity in welcoming Christians and protecting their position".
Most of our wealth is in oil and gas, but we also have plentiful, if underused, agricultural resources.
Hotels, shopping centres, schools and hospitals are going up in what has become a construction boom. Our services and infrastructure are also blossoming.
We aim to increase tourism and build an open market economy which requires external expertise and investment after decades of war, oppression and neglect.
To this end we have devised generous tax and land concessions for investors. We want to use our natural wealth to spread the benefits to our people and diversify our economy for when our oil runs out.
As Meg Munn MP, the APPG chair says: "The plain truth is that Kurdistan is now the only part of Iraq truly open for business for many British and other companies."
We recently held a major investment conference in London which was attended by 600 people including representatives from Northern Ireland. They have begun to understand the fact that Kurdistan is in Iraq need not impose security risks.
There have been several British trade missions to Kurdistan over recent years, but this October a senior British Government official will lead the mission for the first time and it is not too late for companies in Northern Ireland to join.
I know that there is some interest in Northern Ireland towards Iraq and the Kurdistan region. I don't wish to over-egg the pudding by making too many comparisons - our histories are different.
However, both places have suffered protracted violence and a long struggle to rebuild. Like you, we hope that the new generation will grow up in peace.
Iraqi Kurds are certainly interested in your experiences and maybe you will find ours of some interest. We hope your companies will be part of our recovery.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman is the UK High Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government