ARBIL, Iraq Feb 6 Britain's Standard Chartered bank will open its first branch in Iraqi Kurdistan early next month, attracted by financing opportunities for large government infrastructure projects planned in the autonomous region.
The bank is one of a small number of foreign lenders with operations in Iraq, which is experiencing rapid oil-fuelled economic growth, but also its worst upsurge in violence in at least five years.
Standard Chartered opened its country head office and first branch last November in Baghdad's banking district, on a street lined with blast walls and patrolled by guards with Kalashnikov rifles.
Kurdistan is relatively peaceful by contrast, and the autonomous region's main cities are full of cranes and construction sites.
The bank also plans to open another branch in the southern oil hub of Basra later in 2014.
Chief Executive Officer of Standard Chartered Iraq Gavin Wishart told Reuters that the business environment in Kurdistan was "progressive" and described the pace of development as "encouraging".
Security concerns and a complex regulatory and political environment have put some international firms off doing business there. HSBC is trying to exit Iraq by selling its stake in Dar Es Salaam Investment Bank.
"We hope that as the financial services sector develops, we can be the partner of choice in that area," Britain's Ambassador to Iraq Simon Collis said at a news conference during his visit to the Kurdish capital Arbil on Thursday.
Iraq's federal government and the Kurdish region are in dispute over how to exploit the country's vast hydrocarbon reserves and how share the proceeds.