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Iraq

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Editorial

Legal market overview

While firms report a slight recovery of the Iraq economy which is predominately due to Iraqi forces and members of the Popular Mobilization Units having significantly weakened ISIS and subsequently taken back control over many of its former strongholds, there are still a number of factors that account for a difficult economic situation. On one hand, there are on-going budgetary and political uncertainties and security threats caused by tribal violence, militia activity and ISIS, which – at the time of writing – still holds parts of the Iraqi province Anbar, and, on the other hand, foreign investment is hampered by low oil prices. Adding to the current uncertainty is the outcome of the independence referendum held on 25th September 2017 where the people of Kurdistan voted to secede from Iraq. Though non-binding, it stoked tensions between the regional and central governments and could, if executed, reduce investments into Iraq even further, at least in the short term as secession would cut Iraq's total crude oil production by around 10%. The country's dependency on oil and its bid to rebuild the economy by gaining influence in the sector in order to bring in more revenue has resulted in an announcement by state-oil marketer SOMO to potentially change its price benchmark for Basra crude in Asia from early 2018 to pricing based off the Dubai Mercantile Exchange, dropping quotes based on assessments by oil pricing agency S&P Global Platts.

With the deal market slowly recovering, international oil companies that have invested in large projects in Iraq appear to be staying for the long haul and require on-going strategic asset management, regulatory and project development advice. Kurdistan in particular receives a steady flow of investment, it being the safest region in Iraq. In June 2017, Russian oil major Rosneft signed a 20-year deal to buy Kurdistan oil and refine it in Germany. More investment across the entire country is expected to come from China as the country aims to expand links between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe by recreating the ancient Silk Road trade routes. Furthermore, firms report an uptick in distressed work and a rise in litigation and arbitration, driven by budgetary constraints and payment defaults.

Our coverage is split into those firms with a physical presence in Iraq, many of which are branch offices of Middle East regional firms, and large global law firms with significant Iraq practices led from overseas, typically Dubai.

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