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Closer ties with the UK in investment and education

Article - January 11, 2013
High Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to the UK, Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, speaks about the key priorities for KRG, its relationship with the Iraqi federal government, the region's investment pull and bilateral ties with Britain
BAYAN SAMI ABDUL RAHMAN, HIGH REPRESENTATIVE OF THE KRGTO THE UK

What goals would the KRG like to achieve as it continues to move forward in the process of achieving greater growth and socio-economic development?

We want to give our people a better life. We can do that by making sure that our region is secure. I think we have done that successfully. Beyond that, we want to create prosperity and wealth for our people. The prosperity is coming, and the security is there. We want to give our people better health care, education and access to the rest of the world. We want to have good relations within Iraq, and we want to have good relations internationally, with key countries like Britain and the US, as well as other countries across Europe and the region.

In terms of investment, what are Kurdistan’s competitive advantages?

Kurdistan is a forward-looking, democratic and secular Muslim society. We have an extremely investor-friendly investment law – many companies have said it is the most friendly that they have seen. Kurdistan is very stable. This is especially relevant in the Middle East. Here, we have had a peaceful transfer of power, and peaceful general elections. It may not be as mature as a Western democracy, but we are deepening and strengthening our democratic credentials every single day.

 

Kurdistan is a forward-looking, democratic and secular Muslim society.

Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman,
High Representative of the KRG
to the UK

As the KRG High Representative to the UK, how would you assess the current bilateral relations between Kurdistan and the UK?

I would say that they are very good, solid and detailed. We cooperate in many areas, such as in trade, investment and education, which have benefited both sides.
Apart from diplomacy, business and education, there is a lot of other cooperation between Kurdistan and the UK. It has more to do with helping society to deal with very sensitive issues, specifically in the area of human rights.
Almost 90 British businesses are registered in Kurdistan. As far as foreign companies go, the UK has the fourth largest business presence in the region, after Turkey, Iran and Lebanon. 
The real number of businesses is far greater than 90. There are many more British companies that do business in Kurdistan without having to register. It also does not include those in the oil and gas sector, because they are always treated separately because the sector has its own law. Oil and gas companies do not fall under the investment law, either.
Education has become central to the blossoming relationship between Kurdistan and the UK. The majority of the postgraduate students under KRG’s $100-million annual scholarship programme have elected to go to the UK to study. The British universities are doing very well as recipients of those students. The British English language institutions are also doing very well because the students need to do a year of English. In addition, British universities are very much engaged in affiliations with Kurdish universities. Middlesex is thinking about establishing a campus. Leicester University has established an English Language Centre in Kurdistan. The universities are not only benefiting from the scholarships, they are also going to Kurdistan.

What are your main areas of focus for the economy?

Oil and gas is a big sector for us. It is not just exploration; there are also oil and gas services. It is definitely an area to watch. It is a sector that is booming in Kurdistan, with both local and international companies increasingly coming to the region to support the big explorations.
Agriculture is an area we are focusing on. Kurdistan, after all, was the breadbasket of Iraq. Our Ministry of Agriculture is trying to give our fruit-growers and wheat-growers an advantage against all of the very cheap imports.
Tourism is another priority. We can focus on two key areas. First, we have heritage products like our biblical sites. Some of the great prophets of Judaism, Islam and Christianity are buried in Kurdistan. We have Roman sites and the place where the battle of Alexander the Great took place. We have the citadel in Erbil, which goes back 7,000 to 8,000 years, making it the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Second, we have adventure tourism. By that, I mean we have mountains and rivers where we can promote all sorts of nature sports like mountain climbing, river rafting and skiing. Already, Kurdistan is a holiday destination within Iraq. Even people from neighbouring countries come to spend their holidays.
I think minerals will be the next big thing. We need to pass a minerals law. I believe that the Ministry of Natural Resources is working on a draft. First, we need to pass the law on how minerals can be exploited. I think there is some confidence that we do have a fair amount of minerals that would attract a lot of international attention. 
Beyond these areas, there is health care, education and ICT. Already, two of the biggest Iraqi telecoms companies are Kurdish (Korek and Asiacell). We have a reasonable health care system but there is still significant room for improvement. We are reforming the education sector. We had the revision of the curriculum. We have introduced English at the youngest age possible and we have encouraged the development of both private and state schools.
 
How would you describe Kurdistan’s relations with the Iraqi government?

We are a part of Iraq, and in 2003, we decided to voluntarily remain as part of Iraq, which is now inclusive and democratic. This is what we are committed to. We are not willing to be a part of an Iraq that is under a dictatorship. It was under a dictatorship that our people suffered genocide. While Iraq remains on the path to federalism, democracy and unity, we will be part of it.

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