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IFC to boost investments in Yemen, Iraq, N. Africa
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DUBAI: The World Bank's financial arm International Finance Corp (IFC) plans to increase its investments in Yemen, Iraq and North Africa next year to help support development and job creation, a senior IFC executive said.

"MENA needs to create 50-70 million jobs in the next decade. Recent events in the MENA region have created the urgency to address the fundamental conditions required to revive growth and support human development," Dimitris Tsitsiragos, the IFC's vice president for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, said in an interview on Monday.

The IFC, which invests in developing the private sector in emerging economies with a special focus on small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), sees opportunities in infrastructure, energy, education and healthcare in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

"MENA is a strategic priority for the IFC. Obviously a lot depends on market conditions but our objective is to keep our programme at the same level and hopefully grow it," Tsitsiragos said.

"We are prepared to take the risk and support projects in Yemen."

The poorest Arab country, Yemen was driven to the brink of bankruptcy by a year-long uprising that in February pushed long-time president Ali Abdullah Saleh from power and allowed al Qaeda to build its presence in lawless tribal regions.

"It's a small country but deals have a bigger impact. If we succeed, our deals will boost investment sentiment and provide comfort for investors," Tsitsiragos said.

The IFC would be interested in Yemen's energy sector, SMEs, microfinance and the financial sector.

It has invested $2.2 billion in the Middle East and North Africa so far this year, Tsitsiragos said, as economies in the region try to recover from the impact of the Arab Spring uprisings. It hopes to top that amount next year.

It plans to invest close to $100 million next year in OPEC member Iraq, which sits on the world's fourth-largest oil reserves.

"We have so far done a total $400 million in Iraq and plan to do more next year," Tsitsiragos said. "We like infrastructure, manufacturing and the financial sector."

Last year the IFC provided a $400 million, seven-year debt facility for Zain-Iraq, a mobile phone company and subsidiary of Kuwait's Zain Group. It also invested in Ahli United Bank, Iraq's largest lender by market value, and has put close to $75 million into the United Arab Emirates' Gulftainer Co to help it develop ports and logistics activities in Iraq.

Since early last year, the IFC has arranged $450 million of financing for Egypt's Orascom Construction, $137 million in debt financing for Jordan's Hikma pharmaceuticals to help improve access to high-quality generic medicines in the MENA region, and a $50 million loan to French cement maker Lafarge to help the company expand its operations in Iraq.

The IFC was the lead advisor for a public-private partnership project to build a new airport in Medina, Saudi Arabia and another to construct two teaching hospitals in northern Egypt.

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Iraq / Yemen

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