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Iraq PM says committed to reforms to attract business

Vice President Joe Biden and Iraq's Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi talk during a session of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee, Thursday, April 16, 2015, in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON: Iraq is committed to making difficult reforms to its bureaucracy and regulations for foreign firms in order to attract much-needed investment, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said at a Washington forum Thursday.

Abadi, on his first trip to Washington since becoming prime minister, also touted his government’s success in battling ISIS insurgents over the last 10 months.

He and other senior Iraqi officials are seeking arms and aid from the U.S. and international organizations as they fight the insurgents while facing a $25 billion budget deficit due to a drop in oil revenues.

Speaking to a forum held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Abadi said his government was committed to essential reforms, including reducing hurdles for business and tackling corruption.

“It is our aim to provide help and encouragement to the private sector, and we have to remove bureaucracy and red tape,” Abadi said. “In Iraq I think it’s playing a role in delaying investment. Sometimes I can see it as criminal as terrorism.”

Reforms undertaken so far, Abadi said, include easing visa requirements for investors, reducing registration procedures for new businesses, automating some bureaucratic processes, and granting greater authority to local governments.

The fiscal crisis in Iraq had focused officials’ minds on the need for a stronger private sector in Iraq’s economy, he said.

“I think this is the first time we are talking openly in Iraq [that] we have to move to a private sector-controlled economy,” he said.

Iraq’s finance minister, Hoshyar Zebari, Wednesday said Iraq suffered from a bloated government bureaucracy that is paid some $3.5 billion in monthly wages, which he called a huge burden on public finances.

Since taking over as premier from Nouri al-Maliki in September, Abadi has pledged to root out corruption. An investigation launched by Abadi, the results of which were announced last year, found 50,000 “ghost soldiers” who received army salaries without showing up for work.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 18, 2015, on page 4.

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