Niqash: What does your office do in London?
Abdul Rahman: The Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) UK representation focuses on several key areas of work. We focus on the British parliament as there are many members of parliament that are interested in Iraq and the Kurdistan region. We also focus on the media as the UK is the base for much English and Arabic-language media. Also, we promote the economy of the Kurdistan Region by holding seminars for British businesses, organizing trips for them to Kurdistan and helping British businesses finding Kurdish partners. Additionally, we are trying to do more cultural and community work to support the local Kurdish community.
Niqash: Are there good business opportunities in the Kurdistan Region for British companies?
Abdul Rahman: There is a lot of interest in the Kurdistan Region from businesses not only in the UK but also from Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East. The Kurdistan Region Investment Law is very helpful and many businesses with experience have told me that it is one of the best in the Middle East. The investment law has many encouragements for foreigners. Foreign investors and companies are able to own property; they receive an automatic five year tax holiday that can be extended to 10 years; and they are exempt during that time from import duties, income taxes and taxes on repatriated profits. Equipment and machinery that are imported for the project is also tax-free.
The KRG believes that the most dynamic aspect of the Kurdish economy must be driven by the private sector and investors. Information technology, oil, energy, manufacturing and tourism industries are all areas where the private sector can and must play an effective role. The government wants investors to feel confident that they will be treated equally and within the framework of the law. Their rights and duties will be described and protected. In addition, direct flights from Europe to the Kurdistan Region, as well as security and stability, give confidence to foreign investors.
Niqash: And what obstacles face foreign investors in Kurdistan?
Abdul Rahman: One of the main obstacles in front of us and foreign investors is confusion or misunderstanding. Many foreign companies do not differentiate between Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq in term of stability. I explain to them, over and over, that the Kurdistan region is safe and stable. Whenever they come to Kurdistan, they see that the Kurdistan Region is different from what they hear from their media. Since 2006 I have brought six big business delegations from Britain to Kurdistan and many individual and small business delegations. Another obstacle is that in Kurdistan there is a weak banking system. We really need to build up a financial system to the level of international standards. Also in Kurdistan we have another problem, which is the lack of economic data. Up until now we don't have precise data about economic aspects. But all these obstacles are not impossible to overcome and with time we will overcome them.
Niqash: The Prominent Kurdish lawmaker, Dr. Mahmud Othman, recently criticized Britain for backing Arabs on the Kirkuk issue. Do you agree with Othman?
Abdul Rahman: Britain says the disputed areas need to be solved by the Iraqi people and the Iraqi constitution. Britain cares about Kurdistan; they know the Kurdish leadership plays a very important role in the Iraqi political process. We always tell British officials that we have been fighting for Kirkuk for decades and we will continue that struggle. We will never hand over Kirkuk and it is in no one's interest that the Kirkuk issue be resolved through violence. Any war over Kirkuk will destabilize the Middle East and the Middle East will no longer be a safe route for energy to the West and other countries.
Niqash: How do you describe current relation between Baghdad and Erbil?
Abdul Rahman: We have a problem with some elements in the Baghdad government. We can't say we have problem with Baghdad government as a whole, since we are part of the government. I always repeat what president Massoud Barzani said: "Iraq still has the culture of one man or one party rule, and there are dangerous signs and we must act and respond."
Niqash: What about differences over the sale of oil?
Abdul Rahman: On June 1 we will start exporting oil from the Kurdistan Region through Iraqi oil pipelines and the revenue will go to all of Iraq with the Kurdistan Region receiving seventeen percent. The Kurdistan Region is rich in oil and gas and we want to build our economy and we are crazy if we don't use our oil and gas. Also politically it is very important. It is very important that Kurdistan exports its oil for the first time.
Niqash: Has there been any improvement in relations between the Kurdistan Region and Turkey?
Abdul Rahman: Relations with Turkey in the past years have improved and they need to continue to improve. There is a trilateral interest between Turkey, Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Iraqi oil goes to Turkey through the Kurdistan Region and we are now talking about Kurdish gas going to Europe. It is in the interest of Turkey that the Kurdistan Region is stable.