Kurdistan official asks for more Canadian assistance but also investment

CALGARY – The Kurdish region of northern Iraq is open for business but it wants more help from Canada to keep it that way as it struggles to fight ISIL, says its foreign minister.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, representing Iraqi Kurdistan in a short visit to Canada this week, say he’s here to thank the government for its humanitarian aid and military support, and to ask for that support to continue.

“We come here…to thank the Canadian people and government for their contribution in the fight against ISIS and also in providing humanitarian assistance,” said Bakir in an interview.

While addressing members of the Calgary business community, he asked that corporate entities as well pressure the Canadian government to continue supporting the Kurdish military forces known as the Peshmerga.

“I would like to ask you to help us,” said Bakir. “Ask your government to continue supporting us. Peshmerga who are bravely fighting ISIS on the front lines need your support.”

The semi-autonomous region of Iraq has been fighting the Islamic State and dealing with close to two million displaced people, all while grappling with the low oil prices that have affected energy producers worldwide.

“We live in a difficult world, a difficult neighbourhood, but with all the challenges we face, we’ve survived,” said Bakir.

Despite the challenges, Bakir says the region remains an excellent place to do business thanks to encouraging investment laws, incentive programs, and ownership rights.

“We’ve proven to all that Kurdistan is an island of stability,” said Bakir. “We can focus on the commercial, business and investment side as well, because Kurdistan is a safe and secure area.”

Oil and gas has been the driver of investment in the region, with oil giants like Exxon Mobil, Total S.A. and Chevron already active in the area. Calgary-based WesternZagros Resources Ltd. was one of the of the first companies into the region after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and has partnered with Repsol and Gazprom on projects.

“Already we have got American, Canadian, European companies on the ground in Kurdistan who have played an important role. Therefore Kurdistan is on the energy map of the world,” said Bakir.

Kurdistan has also been pushing for greater control over its oil production as Bakir says funding from Baghdad hasn’t lived up to promises. Since June, Kurdistan has been independently exporting roughly 600,000 barrels a day thanks to a new pipeline running into Turkey and through to the Mediterranean.

But Bakir says there are investment opportunities outside of oil and gas — with potential in agriculture, industry, tourism and infrastructure that could use Canada’s help as well.

“We want to diversify our economic sources, and we want to build ties between other institutions. We’re also here to ask for training and capacity building, human resources development in different areas,” said Bakir.

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