[WASHINGTON] Iraq is committed to making difficult reforms to its bureaucracy and regulations for foreign companies in order to attract much-needed investment, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said at a Washington forum on Thursday.
Mr Abadi, on his first trip to Washington since becoming prime minister, also touted his government's success in battling Islamic State insurgents over the last 10 months.
He and other senior Iraqi officials are seeking weapons and aid from the US government and international organizations as they fight the insurgents while facing a US$25 billion budget deficit due to a drop in oil revenues.
Speaking to a forum held by the US Chamber of Commerce, Mr 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," Mr 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, Mr 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, said on Wednesday that Iraq suffers from a bloated government bureaucracy that is paid some US$3.5 billion in monthly wages, which he called a huge burden on public finances.
Since taking over as premier from Nuri al-Maliki in September, Mr Abadi has pledged to root out corruption. An investigation launched by Mr Abadi, the results of which were announced last year, found 50,000 "ghost soldiers" who received army salaries without showing up for work.