- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

Traders wearing blue jackets scurried around amid shouts of "buy" and "sell." Investors milled around the trading floor, tracking share prices with keen attention.
Most of those prices are rising, as the Baghdad Stock Exchange is enjoying an improbable boom. Iraq may be the first country in history where the threat of foreign invasion causes share prices to soar.
Since August, when the prospect of a U.S.-led attack solidified, the Baghdad Stock Index rose by 56 percent, to 2,085, placing it among the best-performing markets in the world.
During the same period, the Dow Jones Industrial Average in New York and the FTSE 100 Index in London each fell about 10 percent.
When Secretary of State Colin L. Powell laid out his case against Iraq at the Security Council Feb. 5, share prices in Baghdad jumped 2 percent.
A shabby building in central Baghdad houses the exchange, and traders scrawl prices on a row of white boards using markers. No computers are seen, yet the feverish atmosphere on the tiny trading floor matches that of any of the world's great financial centers.
If share prices are a guide to expectations, then Iraqi investors are betting on a quick war, the removal of President Saddam Hussein and an economic boom spurred by the lifting of sanctions and an inflow of foreign investment.
While Saddam stays in power, that explanation must remain unspoken. Abbas Fadhil, director of trading, said the boom was a result of the "good reputation of Iraqi companies and good policies of the government."
Mr. Fadhil said investors are unmoved by the prospect of war.
"We don't care if there is war or if there is not war. People trust the stock market in Iraq," Mr. Fadhil said.
The volume of trading barely exceeds $50,000 on a typical day for the 114 Iraqi companies with stock exchange listings. Trading takes place three mornings each week at the exchange, founded 10 years ago.
Most Iraqis probably are not aware of its existence, but the few investors are betting quietly on a rosy future. "Am I worried by war?" asked Abdul Saheb Hassan, 78, who was about to buy a stake in the Basra Sheraton.
"Look at the prices. These shares are very good money for me."

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