Business

Iraqi Ambassador Seeks To Strengthen Houston-Basra Business Ties

The port city of Basra contrasts with Iraq’s war-torn north and west.

Iraq ambassador
Left to Right: Lukman Faily, Ambassador of the Republic of Iraq to the U.S.; Anthony Godfrey, Iraq Country Director, U.S. Department of State; David Phillips, Chairman of the Board, Bilateral U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce

Mention Iraq these days, and the images most likely to come to mind are atrocities involving Islamist militants. But the situation in the oil-rich south of Iraq is very different. That’s the message the U.S. and Iraqi governments are trying to convey to potential investors in Houston.

Lukman Faily, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States, came to Houston this week to address a gathering of the Bilateral U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce. He acknowledged that the group known variously as ISIL or the Islamic State presents a serious security threat. But the fighting remains centered in Iraq’s Sunni heartland and the Kurdish north.

“South of Baghdad, getting down to the southern provinces, there are no security concerns,” Ambassador Faily said, “but there are development issues.”

Those development issues include a lack of adequate infrastructure, electric power, healthcare, and homes. The shortage of houses and apartments is leading to desperate overcrowding. “The housing needs in Iraq is twice as much as what we have now. I mean that, twice as much,” the ambassador said. “Iraq has 12.8, I think, persons per household. It’s one of the highest in the world. Average should be six.”

Faily said all of these sectors constitute potential areas of investment for American business. He cited the city of Basra as a place that needs the expertise Houston companies can provide. Like Houston, Basra is a port city tied to some of its country’s largest oil and natural gas fields. It’s also a center of Iraq’s petrochemical industry.

“Basra provides a very good an example or an acid test of what we in Iraq can offer and what we can do,” he said.

But lack of infrastructure isn’t Basra’s only problem. Houston-based oilfield services giant Baker Hughes suspended operations in Iraq almost exactly a year ago, following protests at its Basra facility. It resumed operations a month later, but the incident cut the company’s earnings for the fourth quarter of 2013 by nearly $80 million.

Anthony Godfrey, the State Department’s director for Iraq, joined Ambassador Faily at the podium. He said that, despite the ongoing security concerns, American companies continue to operate successfully in the country.

“We’re going to remain deeply engaged in Iraq for decades to come,” Godfrey said, “and we have to, in the long term, renew our focus to support sustainable, diversified economic development that will create jobs and provide real opportunity. But there’s an awful lot that Iraq has to do, and frankly, they need our partnership, and they need our help in doing it.”

Houston and Basra established a trade partnership nearly two years ago. Godfrey expressed the hope the two will forge a Sister Cities agreement in the near future.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments across Greater Houston. Before taking up his current post, Andrew spent five years as Houston Public Media’s business reporter, covering the oil...

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