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Iraqi Kurdistan sees 1st emerging China town

Kurdistan’s attractive market lures more foreigners

Iraq’s Kurdistan is catching up with the rest of the world’s globalization trend with its first emerging China market in Sulaimaniya’s Kawa mall.

One of the Chinese entrepreneurs in Kurdistan, Ling Ling, has her shop stacked with items foreign to many Iraqis, and is planning to stay for seevral years to to earn her share of what she sees as a nascent economic potential of the northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, webiste eKurd.net reported on Tuesday.

With Iraq's Kurdistan's market still opening up, Ling said that "people need to come up with good ideas to sell things here," Ling, 34, told the website.

In Kawa mall, Chinese people and their restaurants dominate the top two floors, which are reserved mainly for Chinese firms working in Kurdistan.

Chinese make up only 500 of Sulaimaniya’s 750,000 population, but they have already made a cultural mark on the city.

Chinese flags, lucky cats and paper lanterns decorate the top two floors of the mall and make an odd sight as locals in their traditional widely pleated trousers, flayed suit jackets, and turbans of Iraqi Kurdistan pass by.

Statuses of two dragons have also been placed at the main entrance of the mall facing a neighboring mosque, traditional souq and street sellers.

Tax breaks & no visas

Kurdistan lures foreign investors by enticing them with a 10-year tax break and the freedom to repatriate all of their capital, there are also no initial visa requirements for visitors and business people.

On top of that, foreign businesses are allowed the same rights as their domestic counterparts as they can have full ownership of properties.

"Local parliament adopted a law called the investment law [in July 2006] and this is attracting a lot of companies and countries to come to Kurdistan and invest," said Fryad Rwandzi, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and a former representative in the national parliament in the capital Baghdad said

"The law is protecting investors very well and is giving opportunities to them to invest,” Rwandzi added.

More than half of the 1,170 foreign firms investing in Kurdistan are Turkish, working in areas such as construction. Multinational firms are also monitoring development of the area's 43.7 billion barrels of proven oil and 25.5 barrels of potential reserves.

Funds from abroad eye the retail sector to exploit the consumer potential of the 4.7 million strog local population where more than half are under the age of 20.

"From Turkey and Iran, the Emirates, Lebanon, Egypt. Now many companies form Italy, Germany, Korea, have come to Kurdistan to invest" Rwandzi said.

In comparison to the rest of Iraq, the culture in Kurdistan is relatively more open.

"In [Kurdistan’s capital] Arbil as well, we have restaurants, nightclubs, singers," he said, adding that Kurdistan lacks "the hardliner parts of Islamic society.”

IMF predicts the GDP growth in Iraq to be 11.5% for 2011.

Local parliament adopted a law called the investment law [in July 2006] and this is attracting a lot of companies and countries to come to Kurdistan and invest

Fryad Rwandzi, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan