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Iraq's energy sector asks for U.S. investments

I'm about to visit Houston to discuss investment opportunities in Basra, a province in southern Iraq that is the center of the country's energy industry, far from the violence in the north.

As Texans are famously practical and plainspoken, I expect that some will ask me: "Why invest in Iraq right now?" Maybe some will ask that question more colorfully.

Here is my answer:

Iraq is under attack by the trans­national terrorist organization, ISIL, which beheads international journalists and aid workers, slaughters thousands of Iraqis and Syrians from every religious and ethnic group, and enslaves women and girls. Ultimately, ISIL seeks to subjugate or exterminate everyone - everywhere - who does not accept its extremist views.

As world leaders and Texans understand, ISIL has global ambitions. It recruits and trains battle-hardened Western fighters who will inevitably be unleashed back into the societies from which they came. Therefore, the inter­national community must stand together to counter this threat. From fighting on the ground to reforming our government and rebuilding our economy and army, Iraqis must do our part - and we are.

Rebuilding economy, infrastructure

Prime Minister Hayder Al-Abadi has formed an inclusive national unity government, incorporating all segments of Iraqi society including Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. With the support of coalition airstrikes, the Iraqi security forces are making some significant gains and our new minister of defense will soon launch an offensive against ISIL.

Meanwhile, far from the fighting, Iraqis are continuing the hard work of rebuilding our economy and infrastructure. There are real opportunities for Americans to invest in Iraqi industries and facilities, as well as to win contracts to design, engineer, build, supply and advise these large public and private projects.

During my visit, under the auspices of the U.S.-Arab Bilateral Chamber of Commerce, I will be explaining investment opportunities in Basra, a province that has a partnership agreement with Houston.

Like Houston, Basra is a powerhouse for energy and a host of other industries. As Iraq's main port and home to the vast majority of the country's 144 billion barrels of oil reserves, most of Iraq's petroleum exports leave from Basra.

For Basra, partnership with the West is not just a slogan - it is a way of life. Most of Iraq's southern oil fields have service contracts with major oil companies, such as Exxon Mobil, Shell and BP.

Energy reserves fueling growth

Despite the cross-border conflict in the North, Iraq's energy industry and its entire economy are continuing to rebuild after decades of war and international isolation. Over the past three years, Iraq's economy grew at a steady pace of 8.5 percent. With the planet's fifth-largest oil reserves, located mostly in the South, Iraq remains the world's sixth-largest exporter of petroleum liquids.

Iraq's energy and hydrocarbon reserves have fueled its economic growth. But other factors are at work, including a well-educated and highly skilled population, as well as a strong agricultural sector and the great need to build or rebuild roads and highways, schools and hospitals, electrical power facilities and water treatment plants.

Basra exemplifies Iraq's economic potential. Through its leadership in energy, Basra also has major shipping, logistics and transportation industries, facilitated by its international airport. The province has fertile farmland, producing rice, barley, wheat, dates, livestock and corn. Growing sectors include petrochemical products and health care.

Chance to get in on ground floor

Over the next 10 years, the province plans to invest more than $100 billion in developing infrastructure, housing construction, water treatment, electricity management and schools, as well as pipelines. As investors and contractors, Americans can get in on the ground floor of the growing opportunities to build what some consider "the Houston of Iraq."

In addition to energy leadership, Basra shares Houston's can-do spirit. A Houstonian visiting the Basra Sports City complex, including a 60,000-seat stadium, would be reminded of the Texans' NRG Stadium.

Like Texans, Iraqis have what it takes to turn adversity into opportunity. During my trip to Houston, I will visit another Texas landmark - NASA's Johnson Space Center.

Around the world, people associate one simple statement with NASA: "Failure is not an option."

With help from our American partners, Iraqis will repel the terrorists and rebuild our economy. And we will never, ever imagine that failure is an option for our ancient, embattled but beloved country.

Lukman Faily is Iraq's ambassador to the United States.