As the war in Iraq has ended, Petro and a group of Iraqi-American
businessman have banded together to form the Iraqi-American Chamber
of Commerce, an advocacy and networking group founded by La Crescenta
businessman Raad Omar with a group of peers. Omar envisions an Iraqi
economy, where small business is as important -- if not more -- than
The fledgling group's goals include the promotion of an
open-market economy in Iraq clear from corruption, reactivating Iraqi
professional guilds, encouraging education about business, helping to
prop up small business in Iraq and establishing trade between Iraq
and the United States.
"I've never been as enthusiastic about an idea as I have been this
one," Omar said. "In my mind, one thing has changed fundamentally,
and that is the regime."
It's that opportunity -- the departure of Saddam Hussein's regime
-- that Omar said he and the 20 core members of the business network
are clamoring around.
"We want success in business in Iraq to be not about who you know,
but about who you are," Omar said. "We're crossing our fingers that
especially the young people of Iraq catch on to the idea that they
are now empowered to participate in business."
Omar was raised in Baghdad and left Iraq in 1969. The chamber is
focused on advocacy of a free market and networking. He acknowledged
it wouldn't be easy. Elements of a market economy have sprouted up as
the government leaned on the private sector in the face of
international sanctions. But cronyism remained, he said. And
establishing faith among Iraqi business people in a new market
economy will be difficult, Omar said.
On Sunday, at an Iraqi-American physician's home in Chatsworth,
the chamber held its inaugural meeting. On one end of the living room
-- full of expatriates -- was an electrical engineer. On the other
end, a mechanical engineer sat listening. On a couch was a financial
manager sitting next to a political science professor, across from an
auto-parts dealer. Some had never returned to Iraq after leaving in
the 1960s and '70s. They also represent sects within Islam,
Christianity and Judaism. They agreed this is a historic moment to
work with government agencies, the private sector and legislators to
bring a free-market infrastructure to Iraq.
"We think that with this opportunity, Iraq could be the jewel of
the Middle East, but we have to approach it right if we are going to
get the correct results," said Sabah Khesbak, the vice president of
technology of Tustin-based XLC Iraq Consortium Corp.
"In a sense, what I'd like to have is Iraq join the 21st century,"