Iraq moves towards land privatization

From Dow Jones, April 30, via

LONDON — The Iraqi government is taking fresh action to attract badly needed foreign investment, including moving toward allowing foreigners to own land, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday. The Iraqi economy has been hit by falling oil revenue and the global recession.

“We need more than at any other time in the past a vibrant private sector and we (the government) will see to it that all obstacles are removed for the private sector,” al-Maliki told an investment conference here.

Speaking through an interpreter, al-Maliki announced that his government is working to amend Iraqi law to allow foreign investors to own land in the country. The move would have to gain parliamentary approval. Currently, foreign investors are permitted to lease property for up to 50 years.

Al-Maliki and several members of his cabinet, including his oil minister, have come to the U.K. capital for a two-day gathering billed as the biggest Iraqi investment conference outside the country since the end of the U.S.-led war in 2003.

But the event comes at a delicate time for the Iraqi government. Weak oil prices and falling crude production and exports – caused by maintenance and issues – have forced the government to slash its 2009 budget a number of times in recent months…

The U.K. and Iraqi governments Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding to work more closely in several economic areas.

U.K. Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Peter Mandelson said the agreement would entail U.K. and Iraqi companies cooperating in 12 areas, including energy and financial services.

See our last post on Iraq and the struggle for the oil.