Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Hashim Hamandi and his family fled Iraq 15 years ago, shortly after Saddam Hussein ordered the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which precipitated the Persian Gulf War. Hamandi’s family found a home in the United States, where he went to college, earned an M.B.A. and went to work for JPMorgan Chase.
He lived a comfortable life until 2004, when JPMorgan Chase executives discovered a New York Times op-ed that he wrote about the oil markets and asked him to help establish Iraq’s trade bank. Hamandi accepted the assignment and spent four difficult months working in Baghdad, where there was no internationally recognized currency or monetary infrastructure, and millions of people were struggling to get even the most basic services like electricity and running water.
“It was very challenging dealing with the whole new reality in Iraq,” said Hamandi, 31, who earned a master’s degree in December 2004 from Fordham’s International Political Economy and Development (IPED) program. “To me, it was the same place that I left, but it looked like a place that experienced a nuclear holocaust. There is so much that needs to be done.”
Hamandi was heavily guarded by U.S. armed forces in Iraq because foreigners in the country face the constant threat of kidnapping. The experience, he said, was his most harrowing and most rewarding. The Trade Bank of Iraq has been at the forefront of the reconstruction process because the bank is pivotal to rebuilding trade and promoting economic stability in the country.
Since last spring, the bank has garnered 1,400 letters of credit totaling $5 billion, which has allowed Iraq to contract with and pay for reconstruction efforts. The bank is now issuing Visa cards and is poised to become the first Iraqi institution to rejoin the world’s capital markets, which will allow the country to borrow capital to continue financing its reconstruction.
“This project has been a perfect convergence between business and humanitarian aid work,” said Hamandi, who left JPMorgan Chase last summer to become a vice president in the investment banking division of Citigroup. “We are doing something so critical—trying to get food imports, electricity projects up and running—while I am also working for a premier banking institution in the West.”
Although his schooling and professional experience prepared him well for the work in Iraq, Hamandi was less prepared for the social and cultural challenges that awaited him. He traveled in armored humvees because the trade bank is outside of the protected Green Zone. Although he is of Iraqi descent, Iraqis were skeptical of his American accent, clothes and customs.
“I had to sell myself,” he said. “I had to convince people that I was there to help and that I wasn’t there to repatriate profits.”
Hamandi, who is now pursuing a doctorate in economics at Fordham, said his IPED training has helped him apply his finance skills to the promotion of economic development in Iraq. IPED, established in 1979, prepares students to work as administrators and analysts for a wide range of international organizations involved in the global economy or international development issues.
Henry Schwalbenberg, Ph.D., director of the IPED program, said Hamandi’s work with the Trade Bank of Iraq is pivotal for the country’s economic sustainability.
“Trade is the lifeblood of the Iraqi economy,” he said. “The success of the Iraqi economy depends on the exports of petroleum to finance the imports of the consumer and investment goods so very much needed for economic prosperity. The Trade Bank of Iraq will provide the short-term loans needed to finance these exports and imports.”
Hamandi’s work with the bank has taken him to Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. He will return to Iraq in July to continue his work with the Trade Bank of Iraq and to explore new opportunities for economic rebuilding.
“It’s really good to see an institution that has evolved and grown at such a rapid pace,” he said. “Despite the harshness of what they are going through, I know that I am helping the good people of Iraq.”