Challenges facing investors in entering the Iraqi market

An interview with the businessman and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the STRATEGIECS Institute for Strategic Studies and Research, Hassan Ismaik, with the Iraqi journalist, Ghaiyath Daham, in the “Business Game” podcast.

  • Release Date – Mar 10, 2024


(Presenter): He is the majority owner of the football club TSV 1860 Munich. Who is he? And how is he related to our episode for today?

He is an Arab businessman and investor who initiated his business in the United Arab Emirates in 1996. He commenced with the real estate sector, leveraging his expertise, and progressively expanded and thrived in these ventures. He aligned with the reconstruction renaissance in the country. Following these achievements, he diversified his investments into other sectors, including the energy sector and even sports.

Today, he has become a prominent figure in the Iraqi market. Hopefully, he will be one of the investors in this market. Our guest for today is Mr. Hasan Ismaik.                        

Game of Businesses 

(Presenter): Mr. Hasan Ismaik, you are most welcome among your friends in the land of Mesopotamia. To start, how does Mr. Hasan Ismaik feel now that he is in his second home?

(Mr. Hasan): I feel glad. As you said, it is my second country. I have happy memories in Baghdad.


(Presenter): Welcome again! You honor us and brighten our presence. Your presence is undoubtedly an added value for everyone, God willing.

"I'd like to begin with a personal question. On a personal level, I'm interested to know: Hasan Ismaik, the man with philosophical thinking, the researcher in religions, and the businessman— which aspect takes precedence over the others?" 

(Mr. Hasan): I am a businessman during the day. In the evening, I dedicate my time to thinking, reading, writing, and studying. I divide my time between work during the day and gaining knowledge in the evening.


(Presenter): Which aspect is the dominant one? How do you perceive their mutual support and enhancement? Does your philosophical thinking influence your business, or is it your business endeavors that lead you to philosophical contemplation, personally speaking?

(Mr. Hasan): Philosophical thinking lays the foundation for theories, whether in economics or society. For example, capitalism and communism are both philosophical ideas, yet they are not interlinked. This represents the fine line between the two. In the evening, I seek knowledge, engage in reading, and dedicate time to writing. It's essential to separate from daytime activities.

A businessman cannot entirely immerse himself in academic and economic thought, just as a politician and a businessman


(Presenter): indeed. We can say they are not similar. This will lead us to more difficult question: how can you preserve this fine line? 

(Mr. Hasan): It's a hobby, and when a person loves something, they put in effort. It's a form of dedication.


(Presenter): it’s your passion. Your passion for this direction. 

(Mr. Hasan): yes.


(Presenter): I have a lot of question in fact, for I am keen to address many details. I will not address you as a visitor of Baghdad, that you are not a visitor, you spent a considerable time in Baghdad and lived with its people. 

(Mr. Hasan): Correct.


(Presenter): How did you find Baghdad after this long absence? 

(Mr. Hasan): It is wounded. Sadly wounded. It is not as it was in the past nor as it deserves. The city needs a lot of work and a lot of effort. It is heavily polluted. I'm talking to you now while I am ill of pollution.

(Presenter): I hope you will recover.

(Mr. Hasan): Thanks.

These concrete walls, numerous security checkpoints, lack of order, traffic jams, and random constructions... many things. There are no proper hotels, no internationally prepared hotels. No one can come to Baghdad like any other city, as you would go to Dubai, Doha, Riyadh, or even Beirut, even Damascus is easier to go to than Baghdad despite the sanctions and other things. So, I see that it cries out and calls for its people.


(Presenter): These are the multiple pains of us, and you, sir, can interpret this from another point of view. This will lead me to another question: during a previous discussion with you, the interest was focused on investment in the Iraqi market, so what are the economic indicators? What are the potentials that Mr. Hasan Ismaik have seen in the Iraqi market, to which you determined to visit us and allowed me to be in this interview? What are the procedures? 

(Mr. Hasan): firstly, as you said, I am not a visitor. In fact, I consider myself -or a part of mine- an Iraqi.


(Presenter): I think everyone notices you accent, everyone pays attention to the accent you speak with, indeed.

(Mr. Hasan): This dates back to my days of youth. The truth is, Iraq is a rich and large country, with a very large population, growing at a rate of 2.9% every year, getting larger each year. It is a significant oil producer, and now, soon, gas. Petrochemicals, phosphates, and all of these industries; it needs reconstruction.


Of course, it tempts me, it tempts me a lot to contribute to reconstruction, to enter the real estate, industrial, or construction sectors, and everything. But can we enter as easily as if we went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Easily? That is the most important question. I have the desire, but is desire enough? And will the set of laws and procedures help me to continue? This is the question that the days will answer.


(Presenter):: Mr. Hasan, let me go further in details, but before this I would address the international aspect. Mr. Hasan, you are the owner of Marya Group, and also many other companies and groups you preside. You are the majority owner -as an investor- in one of the sports clubs, which is Manchester?

(Mr. Hasan): It is Munich 1860.

 (Presenter): We all know that the German laws are very strict. 

(Presenter): Having seen the legislations in Iraq, who is stricter: we or Germany?

(Mr. Hasan): They are different. Football in Germany is the most important entertainment sector that Germans believe in; ninety percent -even more than 90%- in Germany consider football to be as important as food and water. {Germany} enacted laws called "50+1" laws.  If you own a club company -even if you own 99% of it- the club's members elected by the fans have a 51% percent decision.

This is against the law, against the laws of the European Union that combat monopoly. It prevailed after World War II. It was enacted during the 80's. Now, it began to cause fault and imbalance, because other leagues began to develop and have more income, succeed more, and win more championships.

Concerning the commercial laws in Germany, Germany is free; you can open a company in one minute through the internet or your lawyer. You may open a factory and {Germany} would encourage and welcome you. {Germany} would welcome you if you hire workers. You don't need a German partner like in Iraq, where you need 51% to be Iraqis. I can say that obtaining a Schengen visa is easier than obtaining a visa from the Embassy of Iraq.

The procedures of the Iraqi Embassy, and airport procedures, all should…

(Presenter): We should call on the law makers. This is the first step to attract investment: to make entering {Iraq} be easier, and to facilitate obtaining visas. You, sir, can talk about how hard that is. 

(Mr. Hasan): I can manage this, I have acquaintances and friends, but others may face difficulties.


(Presenter): We are looking for attracting investment nowadays, there should be…

(Mr. Hasan): Look at Saudi Arabia. In the past, before King Salman and his son assumed power, the Saudi visa was difficult to obtain; you had to go to the embassy, similar to Iraqi procedures. Now, Prince Mohammed realizes that history is only for enjoyment, for memories. As for the future, this is not acceptable. This will cause delays for Saudi Arabia.

Secondly, a confident state does not fear. It has security and military apparatus to protect the country, and if the citizens believe in the country, they cannot be infiltrated. So, whenever you rely on barriers and difficulties, and you want to seek more security approvals for those entering and leaving, you show that you are afraid and not confident. 

(Presenter): give them its nationality.

(Mr. Hasan): Yes, even from their enemies, they were beneficial. A state can't just build with its citizen, trust that. It is true that the Iraqi takes a lot of pride in itself, and thinks that it has everything, and I respect this, but it does not have everything, it rather needs experience. It is just as we believe, for example, that the Iraqi doctor is skillful, when we hear about an Iraqi doctor, we run to him, because we know that he is skillful. The Iraqi doctor has a reputation of being a skilled doctor.

For example, you hear [in finance] about a Swiss or Jordanian; or in sales, for example, a Syrian or an Egyptian. With this, the Gulf always makes trust.

(Presenter): Today, Mr. Hasan, if I may, I come from the private sector; perhaps I'm quite distant from the public sector. The private sector today is employing the same mechanism that you addressed. If we look at private banks today, their entire management is comprised of our Jordanian counterparts. Moving on to marketing, we find specific nationalities dominating sales, and so forth. In the private sector, we are implementing this strategy.

When will the state implement this strategy? Does it need legislation to introduce specialized consultants? Or is it an issue that his excellency Mohammad Shiaa can implement without legislation? This question really interests me to know the answer to it on a personal level.

(Mr. Hasan): As for government departments, they do not need to employ non-Iraqis, because government departments are solely responsible for enforcing and protecting laws. It does not need [foreign expertise], unless you need foreign experts, then agreements would be held with experts. For example, if the Ministry of Environment needs experts, [expertise] should join the Ministry of Environment. But the Ministry of Industry does not need them, because it is a regulator who enforces the law and observes legislation.

But the Investment Commission, in my opinion, is a failed idea, it is a failed idea as a body, it is like the Jordan Investment Promotion Corporation, and some ministries, it a failed idea.

Why was this idea established? It's an idea to circumvent the laws. How? The laws state: fifty-one percent Iraqi, forty-nine percent foreign. The Investment Commission, what does it say? It tells you, get a license in Abu Dhabi under your name, and I will give you a license, I`ll grant it to you.

So, it already grants you a license, a hundred percent. It wants to evade; it wants an entry point.

For example, if you want to negotiate with the Ministry of Housing for residential cities, it tells you that you have to sign with the Commission to get the license. All of this is a waste of time.

Why? Laws and legislations must evolve, and do not need the Commission; each minister should be given clear objectives to implement, contract, be responsible for his agreements; the country must open up; ministries must state what they have, what they can offer, what they want from investors, preserve their rights, and remove all obstacles.

Today, for example, Jordan Investment Commission is an expeditor. It doesn't let you go to the Ministry of Housing or the Ministry of Supplies, rather it does this process. The same here. This is not good; it is a waste of time and it will never work.

(Presenter): Mr. Hasan, I think -personally- that commissions and authorities are needless excessive bureaucracy, do you agree with me?


(Mr. Hasan): I do. It is an increase in the number of employees, and officials, an increase of different titles to satisfy political parties. 

(Presenter): As a result, it will financially and logistically burden the state.


(Mr. Hasan): It is indeed the case, as Iraq is a consumer state with six million employees. If you multiply each employee by five (considering an average family size of four or five members), you have more than fifty percent of the population relying on the state. What kind of state is this, and what is its future?

This is the question, what is its future? 

(Presenter): I might be always criticized for what I am about to say. I advocate for the privatization of the state, turning its employees into the private sector."

(Mr. Hasan): How?

(Presenter): One of my proposals, for example, is the factories. Iraq's factories today have more than twenty-three thousand production lines, most of which are inactive. Why? Because the state lacks the capacity, and no government has been able to reshape, rebuild, reconstruct, and reactivate them. However, today it is possible to offer them for investment and have the private sector take them on. 

(Mr. Hasan): Without significant development in laws and regulations, things will remain as they are.

(Presenter): This will not be reached without laws, of course. I fully agree with you. 


(Mr. Hasan): I am discussing the Fourth License with the officials and businessmen, I told them…


(Presenter): Excuse me, so that the viewers and listeners are aware, the fourth license we are talking about is in the telecommunications sector. The fourth license, meaning the establishment of a fourth telecommunications company.


(Mr. Hasan): Exactly, they want to establish a fourth license, and I applied to be an investor in it. The government said it wanted to establish and maintain it, so I told them that it would be a hundred percent failed fourth license. If you adopt this approach just to compete with other companies, then you are stabbing yourselves. The state should not compete with the private sector, that's the first thing. 

Secondly, if the state can... I told you earlier, government employees are all qualified and better than us as human beings, but I am talking about professionalism: they are limited. Why? Because their job is only to protect the laws and regulations and enforce them. But they lack dimensions from studying abroad, working in the private sector, and working in large international institutions, global banks, or global factories that have achieved this development.

Germany, for example, does not have its own factories. No, all are private sector. What did Germany do?

Germany told the CEOs, boards of directors, and owners of large factories: We own 20% -25% of this factory - whether it's a Mercedes or a BMW factory, you name it. This ownership belongs to the workers' union now. So, labor union, you now have twenty percent ownership in every factory, so protect yourselves.

So, there are board members permanently representing workers' unions to protect the workers. This prevents factory owners from laying off a thousand or two thousand employees whenever they want to reduce costs or for any other reason; instead, it should be done by mutual agreement.

Nevertheless, this approach is flawed and won't be suitable in the 21st or 22nd century.

We have moved beyond this now.

Now, if the public sector starts entering industries, trade, communications, contracting, and housing, then why even have a private sector? It would turn into a communist state, and that would be the end of it—everyone working for the government

(Presenter): these are Socialistic practices.

(Mr. Hasan): they are rather communist. The two most failure systems in the world are Socialism and Communism.

Therefore, the business class—in several countries, not just in Iraq—has grown up in an environment lacking honesty and integrity, leading them to operate as if they were fraudsters, seeking deceptive ways. Ethical principles are not prevalent, not because they are inherently bad individuals or businessmen, not because they are liars or deceivers, but because the political and social system has shaped them this way. They want to live their lives, work, and be productive.

(Presenter): it is an indicator of weakness, not strength. You are right.

The truth is, maybe we suffer from this issue daily in the country, and we always wonder: When will this conflict, obstacles, and daily challenges we go through end?

Mr. Hasan, you were in Iraq in the past. Today, the current government started a constructional and developmental campaign. We see bridges, roads, and other aspects now. As someone who has been following the Iraqi market for a long time, was this current development or openness one of the indicators that encouraged Hasan Ismaik to enter? How do you see it? How did you find it? Away from the Iraqi street, do you see a glimmer of hope in these solutions we witness daily?"


(Mr. Hasan): First and foremost, what entices me is Iraq as a country. Secondly, yes, I found that the current government's approach is heading towards developing services. I see that this government knows what it wants. Opening roads and bridges is a good thing, but what deserves more focus is not the apparent services but the fundamental ones.

What are the fundamental services? Developing the legislative and legal system. Now, the Prime Minister has announced the train and metro project, costing twenty billion, and he wants companies to invest. Well, if these companies want to invest, on what basis do they invest? Where do they get the funding? If the political, legal, and legislative situation is not organized, and on top of that, there are old and complex Central Bank laws in transfers and others.

For example, they announced that they have residential cities they want to give to developers, and I'm interested. For over a year, I've been in discussions with them about the contract that will be regulated between me and the Ministry of Housing and the Investment Authority. The contract itself is, of course, written and complies with Iraqi laws. [But] these laws are daunting, and I can almost guarantee they are suitable for the fifties or forties.

(Presenter): Investment laws? Or all laws?

(Mr. Hasan): All laws. Iraq needs a revolution, a real revolution in developing legislation. For example, The UAE in the year 2022-2023, because it is a confident state, abolished all these difficulties and daunting legislations. You now can promptly open you company of your own, sponsor yourself, behave as if you are in your country, register your invention, and your family lives without anyone interfering. You don't need an Emirati citizen to be your partner; they found that to be daunting.

They need the foreign capital to increase employment, production, global presence, and enhance scientific, intellectual, and economic development, everything. 

Today, if you work pursuant to very old laws and regulations that observe isolation, what will you achieve?

An airport that closes on 6:00! Two flights come per day; four or five runways, and half of them are empty. Half of the Iraqi people live abroad; their families live in Istanbul, Dubai, Doha, and other countries.

(Presenter): Amman, Beirut, etc. 

(Mr. Hasan): Billions are bought abroad. There is no real loyalty to the country from the people themselves, due to the lack of confidence. Those who have money all live abroad and spend abroad. Instead of this being their country, live here, their children study here, live and enjoy here. But where? There are great challenges, in everything; laws, regulations, and time-wasting.

Here, you sign a contract, and after signing it and being happy, you want to implement it in reality, only to discover that you entered into a trap. You start looking for help; Ghayath solves one problem for me because he knows the Minister of Industry, and Mohammed solves an issue with the Ministry of Planning, it's a complicated situation!


(Presenter): there are no right procedures.

(Mr. Hasan): You, as a capital owner, are not looking for complications, rather you look for one open path to accomplish: open a factory, build a residential city, you build an airport. You spend billions and bring funding to accomplish. It is very important for me to earn back my capital, and guarantee that it I will earn it back. Otherwise, why would I come to risk and put money? To lose them?

This culture is very dangerous. There are Arab countries that seek investors, attract them, let them invest money, and then they end up losing it.

What would they say about you? A deceitful state? A fraudulent state This is not acceptable. Legislation and laws must protect the owners of capital. The main owners of capital are Iraqis, they are the Iraqis themselves, their money is all abroad. They are afraid.

This situation is not unique to Iraq; there are other countries where money has fled their borders.

(Presenter): suffered.

(Mr. Hasan): suffered. Sadly, this is the Arab crisis mentality which Gulf States are overcoming now. It is the Arab mentality crisis. Unfortunately, Iraq is actually a part of such mentality.

(Presenter): With previous experience, the Gulf could go beyond this mentality, becoming civilized today. The process became purely administrative, not personal. I always say that institutions are run by systems, not by individuals. We in Iraq still believe in the individual and in the one man, even if that is not clear, but it exists in the mentality.

Do you see that Iraq has the ability to turn into a state of institutions and laws, away from the "one man" mentality?

(Mr. Hasan): Iraq is destinated to be the starting point for everything. The monarchical systems came to an end in Iraq first; it was the first country where a system shifted from presidency to democracy. Iraq is always the starting point for everything; it is the headline. Can it do it? Yes, but initially, the focus should be on raising the banner of “Iraq First", rather than serving the interests of political parties.

(Presenter): Just like in Jordan 15 years ago.

(Mr. Hasan): Yes, but the approach is different in Iraq, entirely different. Why Iraq first? Because politicians work for themselves, not for the country; and economists work for themselves. 

(Presenter): Only the politicians? Or the government and the politicians? 

(Mr. Hasan): No, I'm talking about politicians. As for the head of government -for example- like his excellency brother Mohammed, may God help him! For instance: if he wants to focus on services, the situation will not allow him to do his job one hundred percent, as he has great challenges, both security and political. 

In my opinion, the slogan 'Iraq First' is for the sake of the country, not for the party, money, appearance, media, or personal interest. Trust me, if the goal is the country, they will strip away personal interests, and the country will become the primary focus.


(Presenter): Selflessness, we will achieve selflessness.

(Mr. Hasan): This is why it is important. That is: revising laws and legislation, working for the benefit of the state and not for the benefit of parties, even political action needs to be developed. I mean, the issue of the prime ministry, the parties, the House of Representatives, and the formation of the government, all has failed.

Therefore, Turkish President Erdogan revolted against this system, and found that the West helped Turkey build this system during Ataturk's days to serve their own interests. Indeed, Turkey always lived in political disputes between the military and society until Erdogan came to office.

Similarly, the political system here must be changed to be a presidential system, so that the president has full powers. A president comes to office four years, he presents his program, and if he succeeds, he continues, but if he does not succeed, he leaves. Four years in which there is a clear approach.

Second, develop all the laws and procedures in the State of Iraq, which everyone wants to come and live in, and [make] the decision to live here and invest.


(Presenter): Mr. Hasan, as an investor you came to Iraq. It goes without saying that the first destination of yours will be the Investment Commission, right? Perhaps before Immigration Authority. What do you think about Investment Commission?


(Mr. Hasan): very difficult. Difficult and inflexible. The Investment Commission needs a non-governmental team. The governmental team is limited, it is employed through the Civil Service Authority. It needs who were working in banks sector to be bankers, [from] investment banks.


(Presenter): Local, or do you believe that we should import foreign expertise?


(Mr. Hasan): Expertise should be imported. There is no country that built its state, even closed Germany. Closed Germany was daily giving its citizenship to those who were in its favor: doctors, scientists, professors, and financiers, 

(Presenter): give them its nationality.

(Mr. Hasan): Yes, even from their enemies, they were beneficial. A state can't just build with its citizen, trust that. It is true that the Iraqi takes a lot of pride in itself, and thinks that it has everything, and I respect this, but it does not have everything, it rather needs experience. It is just as we believe, for example, that the Iraqi doctor is skillful, when we hear about an Iraqi doctor, we run to him, because we know that he is skillful. The Iraqi doctor has a reputation of being a skilled doctor.

For example, you hear [in finance] about a Swiss or Jordanian; or in sales, for example, a Syrian or an Egyptian. With this, the Gulf always makes trust.

(Presenter): the Intellectual, today you talked about intellectual aspect, about historical depth, about development, and we address that the youth may be a victim of an educational institution — possibly in the Arab world in general.  You didn’t specify them.

Today, inshallah, the matter will be realized, and Hasan Ismaik will enter the investment market in Iraq. Today, we are talking about institutions, not just one institution that can operate in the Iraqi market. Is it possible for us to present to our youth... Perhaps today we bring good news through this platform to our youth... that, inshallah, job opportunities will soon be available in large numbers through investors, the first of whom is you?

 But are there specific criteria required? Today we are talking about high standards, as your institutions operate in global countries, and the Iraqi market is still a young market, not yet fully mature. We are specifically talking about the private sector.

Are there any specific criteria that can be presented to the youth or encouraged for them to prepare for?

(Mr. Hasan): No, for example, we are interested in building five to ten residential cities, and this is approximately 370,000 units in the whole of Iraq.

We commence with a capital of ten billion dollars, as discussed with His Excellency the Prime Minister. He has extended full support, opened all avenues, and aimed to collaborate on these projects, ensuring compliance with laws and contributing what is permissible.

He always says that we cannot bypass the laws, and I am ready to do all I can... I support the Ministry of Housing... I support the Investment Commission; I am ready. But we can’t break the law, and we must go to the parliament and present it, and the committees, blocs, and parties should vote on it.

The Iraqi youth is qualified. If, for example, we start in these cities, we need engineers and assistant engineers. Iraqis are qualified. We need accountants. Iraqis are qualified. We might need senior engineers with experience, and we may find an Iraqi who lived in Sweden or America with this experience.

It would be better to bring a Jordanian, for example, if there is no Iraqi, or if the Iraqi does not want. We can bring Egyptian, a Sudanese, or others, I don't mean a particular nationality.

Presenter: Yes, these are just examples.

We will have a big recruitment campaign, and more than 90% of the Iraqi population will be in these companies. 

(Presenter):: you mean, of Iraqi workforce. 

(Mr. Hasan): I don’t know about workers, construction workers 

(Presenter): We are talking about "labors" in general, which is a work description. In the Labor Law, we are all labors.

(Mr. Hasan):: Correct. 

(Presenter):: Mr. Hasan, here, let me take a specific direction, considered worthy. Today, whether we are workers in the private sector, Iraqi citizens in general, or you as investors, we are all seeking legislation that is facilitative and attractive, as long as it does not harm the country and its current situation, as mentioned by the Prime Minister. We are currently looking for additional legislation to make it more attractive. 

This is an invitation from this platform, with your presence, to all concerned parties to contribute to supporting these legislations. We also call on our youth to make all their demands towards a genuine legislative direction to provide real job opportunities.


(Mr. Hasan): Developing the laws and legislations.

(Presenter): Right you are.

(Mr. Hasan): And the social contract. Developing the laws, legislations, and the social contract. This is what matters the most. 

(Presenter): Can you explain this, please?

(Mr. Hasan): The social contract is the organizer of Iraqi society, on which the state is based, and on which the state is established. 

There are now many tensions in Iraq: Sunnis and Shiites, Kurds and Arabs. This causes major crises; this violates the social contract. What matters is -along with developing the system of laws and legislations- it is also to develop the system of the social contract, and that Iraq would unify its approach.


For example, part of Iraq is now capitalist, part is Socialistic, part Communist, and a part religious. The state, then, has become without identity. This is a cocktail. This is not permissible.


(Presenter):: This is dispersal 

So, what do you want? Free economy?

You need to divide the work correctly? The private sector is a private sector. You are a country that regulates and procures taxes to spend on yourself and develop infrastructure.

The justice sector should become an independent institution, taking into account the military security institutions and everything.

All this requires an intellectual debate between political parties supported by the people. If I were in the place of the Iraqi people, or even before being in their place, if I were in the position of the Prime Minister, I would conduct a referendum.

(Presenter): A referendum? 

(Mr. Hasan): Yes. A referendum in which I demand that I be granted powers to develop all pillars of the state, by developing the mechanisms of laws, legislation and the social contract, rather than waiting to go to the House of Representatives. Many in the parliaments in the Arab world who do not understand.

I'm sorry, I don't mean anyone in particular. But there are many members of the House of Representatives who have no knowledge, and ignorant. They halt any voting, either for ideological [reasons], or in his interest because he wants money, or for he obeys his master. This is not good.

I am calling to what the Turkish president did; a referendum to authorize the Prime Minister to restructure the law, legislation, and social contract.

This is for the youth. If they focus on this, they are will be loyal to their country.

(Presenter): Today, let's draw a conclusion that we can address to the youth and institutions. The correct step today, is to demand the Prime Minister to announce this referendum? 

(Mr. Hasan): if I were the prime Minister, I would be very realistic, and explain to the Iraqi people what our real problem is. 

(Presenter): What is this referendum? What is its nature, if we want to demand it? As an Iraqi citizen I….

(Mr. Hasan): He should be clear to the people, telling them: I will make streets for you, but I cannot solve the problem, all this because we have a very difficult set of laws and legislations that do not attract the private sector, making us unqualified to borrow money from abroad at a cheap rate. Our system of the Central Bank is very difficult. It is all intertwined. 

Today, the official in the Arab world —and I firmly believe it's the same in Iraq— what does he do to ease his burden? He says, "I don't know" or "This is the system." Why? Because he is afraid of punishment, so he takes precautions. The easiest thing for him is not to work, so at least the anti-corruption or integrity office won't come after him and put him in jail. When the anti-corruption or integrity office is a threatening sword, you know for sure there won't be progress, development, or construction.

When the anti-corruption or integrity office is a threatening sword, you know for sure there won't be progress forward. 

(Presenter): Therefore, these institutions have become tools for combat rather than tools for support. 

(Presenter): I have a question that may bring us back to the beginning of our interview: Mr. Hasan Ismaik: One of your most important investments and activities globally are the real estate sector and the energy sector. We have just said that you are interested- hopefully this will be achieved- in participating in constructing five to ten residential cities in Iraq. Will this investment be matched or accompanied by investments in the field of energy? 

Today, our economy depends on revenues and consumption, we need to develop the energy field, the green energy in particular. Are there any projects or initiatives in this field? Are there any initiatives from the state or from the Prime Minister in this regard as well?

(Mr. Hasan): Yes, there are initiatives and facilitations, may God reward him well, and officials as well, may God reward [the Prime Minister] and the officials well, they do what they can. In the end, his excellency, the ministers, and the officials want the good of their country. But these are the possibilities within the laws and guidelines. I only blame them for not wanting to fight for their country, not wanting to speak the truth to the people. I cannot accept my home to be like this.

(Presenter): It needs more effort.

(Mr. Hasan): it needs effort. Your country deserves it. Iraq deserves it. I know how the Iraqi people are attached to their country, Iraq deserve this, it is worthy to fight for, to explain more, to excerpt more effort and explain reality and truth to youth, intellectuals, universities, and academics, so that they can show this truth.

Our plague is the Arab countries is that history for us is the future, but unfortunately history is for fun, just memories. As you were in the past, at the beginning of your life: you go with your friends, travel, drink, work, run. You remember these memories when you are forty or fifty years old, you cannot do what you used to do when you were 16.

We are like this; we do not look to the future. The future is now in other countries, places that are thousands of kilometers away from us, thousands, not hundreds.

So, we, as Arab countries and as Iraq, need to think about the future. What is suitable for the future? How can I be ahead of this future? I mean, not just laws and legislation that follow the year 2024, but ones that lead us to 2044, surpassing others, progressing ahead of others.


(Presenter): Mr. Hasan, this might be the last of the questions. We talked about legislation and laws, and most of our discussion revolved around legislation and laws. But I want to ask you another question: Does the private sector have to play a role in this change?

(Mr. Hasan): John Locke and Adam Smith, the theorist of capitalism, have distributed the missions: He argued that the state is responsible for implementing and developing laws and legislation, maintaining the social contract, and taking a tax for the continuity of this state. Therefore, the tax in developed countries is more important than food and water. I mean, if you evade tax, your punishment is stronger than murder. 

Why? Because they consider taxes to be what protects the country, funds the army, security, and police, develops infrastructure, and ensures the country's protection. So, they grant absolute freedom to the private sector and never interfere with it. The private sector must be empowered to operate with complete freedom.

Because, in the US, it wasn't the government departments that invented all these inventions; Silicon Valley is not governmental, it's all private sector.

Yesterday, for example, SpaceX took one billion eight hundred million from the government to develop the Internet's satellite, and so on. When the government wants to develop something, it goes to the private sector and tells them: I want to invent a rocket, they invented a rocket for me.

These laboratories need money and employment, a wonderful professor doctor will not take the government ten thousand dollars or five thousand dollars, while he can go to the US and take a hundred thousand dollars a month.

So, the private sector is part of the state, and it pays tax money to the government. It is a complement.

Just as the educational institution is important, just as the judicial institution is important, just as the security establishment is important, the private sector must have absolute freedom.

(Presenter): This is a good point of view, Mr. Hasan, Here I can come up with a very nice conclusion. I mean, just as we demand that the state commit to changing legislation, and we ask our youth to correct their demands, an important point today can be that we ask the private sector in the first step is the obligation to pay taxes. This is an important element and part of the proper functioning of the process.

Mr. Hasan, so we can conclude. The closing remarks are yours; indeed, the conversation has been interesting and enjoyable. If it were up to me, I might extend this interview for hours.

An Advice, just as you directed a piece of advice to the Prime Minister and the employees of the current government, we wish success to everyone who strives with a sense of patriotism, Inshallah. Certainly, for each individual who has loyalty and dedication to this country, and for all our Arab countries, undoubtedly. Also, for those working in the private sector. What is your advice to the Iraqi youth and those working in the Iraqi private sector?

(Mr. Hasan): To have principles and values. And not to let the past and the corruption of politicians affect them.

A person without humane principles is worthless. Moreover, when a person says to himself, "I have learned," time stands still for him, and he becomes history. One must continue to learn and not say, "I have learned," but instead say, "I am learning" and be open to anything. If he doesn't find work in his engineering field but finds a job at Starbucks, let him work until he gets the opportunity to be an engineer. Work is the key to survival in anything.

There are many who graduated as engineers or doctors, and now they are among the biggest bank owners. One studied medicine and became a banker, one studied engineering and he became a manufacturer. They should never stop; they should never sit at home.

One should never stop, he continues to seek knowledge, reading at least four or five pages before bedtime, whether through his mobile phone, a book, or his iPad. But he reads, learns, because, just like he needs food every day, he also needs knowledge.

Iraq is full of opportunities, very full. The country has tremendous potential, and I'm confident that if the government works on developing and facilitating procedures and legislation, enormous amounts of money will come from all around the world, and this political crisis will come to an end.

(Presenter): Mr. Hasan Ismaik, the businessman and the investor, this was a great episode, with so many information that were of a great benefit for me on the personal level. 

Thank you, and thanks for you precious time. I hope we will meet soon, talking about business success and the development in our beloved country.

(Mr. Hasan): thanks.

(Presenter): Unfortunately, most of our legislation and laws are discouraging for investment and investors. Therefore, this will be a platform through which we call on all concerned parties – without naming any individual or entity – solely to demand a change in these legislations and laws to make them more attractive. Today, the country urgently needs to attract and embrace investors, not only for investment funds but also to benefit from their global and international expertise.

As you have observed today, most investors – starting with Mr. Hasan – have strong affiliations and loyalties to this country. We hope to meet them soon, with significant developments and discussions on successes and working mechanisms. 

Wishing you all the best, and goodbye.


Policy Analysis Team