The Iraqi economy has been severely affected by war, and doing business in Iraq is far from easy. That said, in recent years there have been signs of recovery, and businesses and entrepreneurs from across the world are beginning to recognise Iraq's investment potential as a high-risk but high-reward location.
Those wishing to do business in Iraq will need to make an effort to gain some objective understanding of the Iraqi people. It’s only by operating with a degree of cultural sensitivity that international businesspeople will be able to enhance their business experiences in Iraq.
Saturday to Thursday from 8am to 5pm, with a one-hour lunch break. Working hours are generally reduced during Ramadan.
The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish, but English is widely spoken in business circles.
Business dress in Iraq is formal, with suits being standard for men. Women should dress conservatively, avoiding tight-fitting styles and opting for modest clothing that covers at least the knees and shoulders.
Gifts are not necessary in business proceedings. If invited to a colleague’s home, then a box of chocolates or a fruit basket is a good choice. Flowers may be given to the hostess. Do not give gifts that contain alcohol or pork.
Women's participation in the Iraqi workforce is low and progress towards equality is slow. Expat businesswomen are unlikely to encounter local women holding similar positions, but in most cases, they will nevertheless be taken seriously by male colleagues.
Business culture in Iraq
As a result of tensions in Iraq, there may be some hostility towards foreigners. It is therefore important that businesspeople in Iraq take the time to understand the local culture and etiquette and make efforts to build trust with Iraqi associates.
Those from countries that operate on egalitarian structures may find the hierarchical nature of Iraqi business difficult to deal with. It will be important to show respect to seniors if one wishes to be successful in Iraqi business.
Meeting and greeting people
Business dealings in Iraq are a formal affair. Only once a relationship has been established and counterparts begin to address expats by their first name, is it acceptable to do likewise. Otherwise, it is best to address business associates using formal titles.
When meeting business associates, expats should greet them with a formal handshake. When greeting a local woman, men should wait for her to extend her hand before making any gesture. If she doesn’t extend her hand, a simple nod of the head and a smile will suffice.
When first making acquaintance, Iraqi businesspeople can be blunt and will often ask probing questions when trying to establish trust with a new business colleague.
Communication and language
Arabic is the official language in Iraq, but English is widely spoken in business circles. It is wise to learn some common Arabic greetings such as "Assalamu alaikum’" (peace be with you), and its response of "Wa alaikum salaam" (and peace be unto you).
The concept of saving face and protecting honour are valued in Iraq. Consequently, showing emotion is viewed negatively. Voicing disapproval should also be avoided and if it becomes necessary this should only be done privately, quietly and with tact.
Expat entrepreneurs should understand that Iraqis take a person at their word, so they should never make a promise that cannot be kept. In order to show commitment without making firm assurances, use terms such as "I will do my best" or the local term "inshallah" (God willing).
Due to the hierarchical nature of businesses in Iraq, the most senior person will take the leading role and manage business meetings. Subordinates are expected to corroborate information, provide technical assistance and give advice to their seniors in those meetings.
Expats should ensure that business agendas and information is translated into Arabic and sent to Iraqi business associates ahead of time.
Decisions are usually made by the most senior person after consulting with the relevant stakeholders and technical advisors who will be present at business meetings.
Expats may find business proceedings in Iraq to be both slow and frustrating, as interruptions are common. It is also common for Iraqi business people to take phone calls during meetings. This should not be seen negatively, and expats should be patient.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Iraq
Do deliver on any promises made, as Iraqis take people at their word
Don't attempt to rush Iraqi business partners into making a decision
Do expect interruptions during meetings
Do treat business cards with respect
Don't show excessive displays of emotion, especially in public