“FedEx Express has had no choice but to use Rus and, as a result, the reliability of our service to Iraq has been substantially degraded,” the company said in a statement about the suspension.
It is almost an article of faith among many Iraqis, judging from opinion polls, that the United States invaded Iraq not to topple Saddam Hussein, but to get their country’s oil.
If true, then the war failed in even more ways than some critics charge.
It wasn’t until last week that the first major oil field exploitation contract was signed with a foreign company — BP, in a joint deal with China’s state-run China National Petroleum Corporation.
Exxon Mobil , an American company, has an oil field deal awaiting final approval from Iraq’s oil ministry. The Italian oil giant Eni, whose junior partner is the American-owned Occidental Petroleum, is expected to sign a similar deal. These, however, are service contracts, so the foreign oil companies don’t actually own rights to any new oil they may find.
The newest edition of the Iraqi Yellow Pages, a business-to-business directory, doesn’t have a single ad from an American company.
American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the record, disputed that United States companies were having a difficult time in the Iraqi free market. “I wouldn’t read too much into American presence or lack of it at the trade fair as a bellwether,” one official said. “I would say the future is very positive.”
Another official pointed out that a recent Iraqi-American investment conference held in Washington stirred up enormous interest among American companies. “We had to turn away several hundred companies that wanted to come,” he said, adding that the embassy in Baghdad has had many subsequent inquiries from firms. That interest has not translated into action yet.
“After the conference in Washington, I’m surprised you can get on a flight here considering all the opportunities,” said Mike Pullen, a lawyer at the British-American firm DLA Piper, who works in Iraq.
“It’s a pity we can’t get more people to come,” he said. “They’re losing out to Turkish companies, Russian companies.”
“Turkish companies are acceptable to all different Iraqi ethnic groups, because they are not an occupier, and they can implement big reconstruction projects at a lower cost,” said an executive of a leading Iraqi construction firm that often works with the Turks. He did not wish to be identified for fear of offending American clients.
Even Iraqi Kurds, many of whom are politically at odds with Turkey, seem to get along with the Turks when it comes to business.
“Turkish companies are not afraid to do business in Iraq,” said Eren Balamir, who was in charge of Turkey’s pavilion at the fair.
The high cost of security — a cost that most regional businesses don’t have — has dissuaded many American businesses from coming; some contracts spent as much as 25 percent of their budgets on security.
Security isn’t the only impediment. Being seen as the occupier is just not good for business. Although the United States, legally speaking, has not been an occupying power since June 2004, when the Security Council formally ended occupation, many see it that way. Even Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has described Americans as occupiers to curry electoral support.
One European ambassador, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his government’s policy, said his own country’s trade opportunities greatly increased in Iraq after it withdrew the last of its troops more than a year ago. “Being considered an occupier handicapped us extremely,” he said. “The farther we are away from that the more our companies can be accepted on their own merits.”
“As a U.S. company, you already have a few strikes against you before you even step foot in Baghdad airport,” said Marc Zeepvat of the Trans National Research Corporation in New Jersey, who specializes in studying the Iraqi market for institutional investors. “The U.S. government and U.S. companies have to wake up and realize they’re not in a privileged position any more.”
“The State Department’s travel advisory doesn’t help either,” Mr. Zeepvat said. It tells people, in effect, “don’t come.”