Banking on Iraq

Wadie Habboush gave up a comfortable life as a top-flight lawyer in the US to return to his roots in Iraq. Now, his company, the Habboush Group, is hoping to spur private-sector participation in the country

Wadie Habboush has one of the more impressive corner offices that this reporter has seen, and he’s seen a few.

The firm of which he is CEO, the Habboush Group, has just moved into a cavernous corporate office in DIFC, from where it is planning nothing less than the redevelopment of Iraq’s battered infrastructure.

The Iraqi national certainly has some pretty big aims. Via a ‘one-stop-shop’ strategy, the company aims to link foreign investors who are keen to access Iraq’s potential returns with the country’s need for infrastructure. What that means is that the firm will not only secure the financing for any particular project, it will also design, build and operate the project even after completion.

For Habboush, the return to Iraq represents an opportunity to follow in his family firm’s footsteps. The group initially started life around 80 years ago near Basra, Iraq’s port city in the south, but the family later formed part of the diaspora that left Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, whose anti-capitalist policies crushed free enterprise firms.

“My family has a long history, particularly in southern Iraq, as traders and businessmen,” he says. “So I inherited a lot of entrepreneurial blood in my veins, and I feel I have a responsibility to continue to fight and challenge myself.”

After growing up in Kuwait, Habboush studied in the UK and the US, gaining a juris doctor law degree from Georgetown University, and a BSc in accountancy from the American University’s Kogod School of Business. By linking the worlds of law and accountancy, Habboush was aiming to “arm myself with the right skill sets to become a good global manager”. After a stint at law giant Kirkland & Ellis, where he largely worked on structuring, financing and negotiating complex national and international corporate transactions, he set up his own firm, Global Consulting, an advisory outfit which specialised in development opportunities in Latin America and the Middle East.

At 27, however, Habboush decided to return to his roots and joined up with the family firm again. “I asked myself: ‘do I want to be a lawyer for the rest of my life?” he recalls.

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