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U.S. has first trade mission to Iraq since end of combat

By Laurie Ure, CNN National Security Producer
  • Reps from 15 companies are part of the delegation going to Iraq
  • GE, Boeing are among firms seeking to tap into Iraq's rebuilding
  • Firms to vie for a slice of more than $80 billion in infrastructure projects
  • No tax breaks for companies, who also will have to provide their own security

Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Commerce is leading a trade mission to Iraq in October, the first such effort since the end of the U.S. combat mission there.

Representatives from 15 American companies, including General Electric and Boeing Corp., are part of the delegation. The businesses generally provide infrastructure-related services such as cargo transport, helicopters and construction.

Only one energy company, Wamar Engineering, is a part of the delegation, though a Commerce Department official said many U.S.-based oil companies interested in business in Iraq already have a presence there.

"This represents a new phase of operations with Iraq," said Mary Trupo, with the International Trade Administration.

A State Department official described Iraq's infrastructure needs are "extraordinary." The Commerce and State Department officials spoke to the media on the condition they not be identified.

"The opportunities are impressive," the official said. "I don't know of anywhere else in the world where this is much is going to be spent in a single country."

A Commerce official said the Iraqi government has designated more than $80 billion for infrastructure projects.

"U.S. companies are now very much aware of business opportunities in Iraq," the official said. "The market is progressing from companies interested in U.S. contracts there, to companies interested in partnering with Iraqi companies."

Iraq has 29 million citizens, many who are under the age of 20, creating a "large consumer base," the official said.

The trade mission is designed to bring American and Iraqi businesses together to rebuild Iraq's economy, and to "facilitate match-making" between like-minded U.S. and Iraqi companies, with potential economic and commercial benefits for both countries, according to a Commerce Department official.

The official said that although many of the U.S. companies are likely to hire local Iraqis, jobs would also in turn be created for Americans, as increased sales drive up manufacturing on U.S. soil.

The U.S. government has not offered any tax breaks to American companies interested in doing business in Iraq, a Commerce Department official said. But businesses will be driven by financial incentives based on commercial factors, including "contracts and profit margins."

Commerce and State Department officials admitted security in Iraq remains a challenge, and companies ultimately choosing to set up shop there would need to provide for their own safety.

Officials also said that the instability of the Iraqi government is not stopping businesses from making plans to work there.

"Companies are not sitting on their hands" waiting to get started, a State Department official said.

Trupo said Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez will lead the mission, where U.S. company representatives will spend five days in Baghdad meeting with Iraqi business leaders.

The businesses are paying their own way for the trip, and were chosen after responding to a Commerce Department announcement, according to a department official.

TVC Communications' MaxCell Group, a one of the companies chosen, said in a press release that "the vetting process was rigorous." The company says it plans to "rebuild the communication infrastructure within Iraq."

This trip will mark the 24th Commerce Department trade mission since President Barack Obama announced the National Export Initiative during his State of the Union speech in January. More than 250 companies have participated, according to the State Department.