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Merchant banks: The carpetbaggers of Kurdistan

A small but growing number of savvy merchant banks are raising cash internationally for buyouts and advisory ventures in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan.

Iraq ranks fifth from bottom in Transparency International’s corruption index of 180 countries. For Herish Muharam, chairman of the Kurdish government’s investment board, it is the number-one challenge.

But for those who combine know-how and connections in Iraq with connections and know-how in international finance, profitable inroads can be made. A small but growing number of savvy merchant banks are raising cash internationally for case-by-case buyouts and advisory ventures in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan.

Some observers refer to them as carpetbaggers, like the 19th-century US entrepreneurs from northern states who snapped up cheap assets in the old Confederate areas after the US civil war, travelling south with suitcases made of carpet.

One example is Forbes Kurdistan, a subsidiary of Canadian commodities-focused private merchant bank Forbes and Manhattan. Two Forbes subsidiaries have won oil and gas concessions in Kurdistan. The bank has listed one of these subsidiaries, Vast Exploration, on Toronto’s secondary market.

The president of Forbes Kurdistan is retired colonel Dick Naab, US military commander in Kurdistan in 1991 and the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq’s northern governorates after 2003. Naab was brought in by another of Forbes’s advisers, retired general Jay Garner, the man initially in charge of the entire coalition government in Iraq.

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