The death toll in Iraq this month is nearly 700 and rising — the result of a wave of bombings and open clashes between government-led Iraqi security forces and Sunni extremists with ties to al Qaida.

Steve Inskeep talks to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, who says the U.S. should be doing more in Iraq.

Click here to hear the interview from NPR.

(Source: NPR)

By Padraig O’Hannelly.

This week the UK hosted a delegation of business people and officials from Erbil, who came to London to promote investment in the province.

The delegation would have been larger were it not for the ongoing problem of getting visas to enter the UK; despite the recent opening of a new visa centre in Erbil, this is still a problem that is clearly costing the UK valuable business.

Among the visitors were Erbil’s Deputy Governor Tahir Abdulla, Deputy Minister Nawroz Mahlood from the Kurdistan Board of Investment, and Fathi al-Mudaris of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, along with representatives of companies such as DA Group, UB Holding, Falcon Group and Rekan Group.

Opening the meeting at the Middle East Association, the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy Lord Marland highlighted the successes of Iraqi  Kurdistan in the areas of security, the rule of law, and transparency, which he said were key to attracting British business to the region.

Deputy Governor Tahir Abdulla’s message was clear: “Come, see and start“.

And to help UK businesses make those first steps, the MEA and British Expertise will be leading a joint trade mission to Iraqi Kurdistan in February.

(Flag image via Shutterstock)

By Wassim Bassem for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Al-basta (Iraqi goods displayed for sale on the sidewalk) used to be for the poor. It then became a small business, garnering modest profit. Today, these sidewalk displays generate regular daily profits and compete with the stores and shops around them.

Shaker Ahmed manages two square meters of sidewalk in front of a shop in Hilla, Babel, south of Baghdad. He pays the shop’s owner $3,000 a year to rent the location.

Ahmed laughs at the naiveté of those who think that basta vendors are allowed to sell their goods in front of large stores just because of shop owners’ kindness. He told Al-Monitor, “It is very difficult to have and use an outdoor space, because you have to pay money to the person whose space you want to occupy.”

The relationship between the “sidewalk vendor” and the shop owner depends on the latter seeing customers visit the basta. The more customers, the higher the rent he can charge the vendor. This is true in most Iraqi cities, especially in Baghdad, where goods flood the sidewalks, turning the latter into commercial projects instead of safe walkways for pedestrians.

Baghdad resident Halim Hassan told Al-Monitor that he likes buying goods from basta vendors because of the low prices and the variety they offer.

The bastas are very common during religious occasions and holidays, when traders empty their stock and display their discounted wares to the public.

Ahmed Hassan, a member of the Department of Economic Security in Babel, told Al-Monitor, “The businesses these vendors run are prohibited by law, and they should be removed. There have been several attempts to do so, but they failed because the [bastas] have become a social phenomenon.”

By John Lee.

Azerbaijan is expected to open an embassy in Iraq by the end of the year.

According to a report from Trend, the Iraqi ambassador to Azerbaijan, Heydar al-Barrak, told journalists that the process will take time, but he hopes to meet that schedule.

He added that issues regarding the open of direct flights between Azerbaijan and Iraq have been resolved, and it is expected that flights will be operate four times a week.

Trade between the countries reportedly amounted to $354.19 million last year, of which $353.64 million was goods exported to Iraq, with just $0.55 million worth of Azerbaijani goods imported into Iraq.

(Source: Trend)

By John Lee.

Al Qasim Green University announced on Tuesday (January 21st) the signing a memorandum of collaboration with the University of Tehran in Iran, reports Alsumaria.

The deal covers the exchange of expertise and research, with both universities agreeing to undertake joint projects in zoology and agriculture.

A delegation from the University of Tehran visited Al Qasim Green University and met with the University council members, during which the Iranian said they were ready to welcome students and professors at Tehran University to pursue their education and research.

(Source: Alsumaria)

The Middle East Association (MEA) and British Expertise will be leading a joint trade mission to Iraqi Kurdistan, visiting Erbil and Slemani, from 22nd-27/28th February 2014.

Register your interest today to confirm your place. This mission will have a particular focus on Education, Training, and Skills, Construction and Infrastructure Development.

The MEA and British Expertise are delighted to be working together with the Kurdistan Regional Government UK Representation on a special business delegation and the first ‘UK in Kurdistan Forum’.

As part of the programme, the delegation will take part in the first ‘UK in Kurdistan Forum‘, a special mini-trade fair focussing on the particular commercial offer the UK can present to Kurdistan. Each delegate will be allocated a stand space, and guests will be invited from across the Region.

The Kurdistan Region has a fast-growing economy built on progressive economic policies and increasing government transparency. Investment opportunities span every sector, including oil and gas, power, water and waste water management, agriculture and the service industries.

Delegates will be able to participate in two tailored programmes centred around Education and Construction and Infrastructure Development, during which delegates will have the opportunity to meet key decision makers across the Kurdish private and public sector.

To register your interest, please contact our Mission Managers, CT Group Travel or email mea@ctgrouptravel.co.uk.

By John Lee.

Iraq exported a total of 872.3 million barrels of oil last year, giving an average of 2.39 million barrel per day, down from 2.42 million bpd in 2012, according to AFP.

Revenue for the year was also down, falling from $94.02 billion in 2012 to $89.22 billion last year.

OPEC said Iraqi oil production declined 1.8 percent from November to settle at 2.9 million barrels per day in December.

(Sources: UPI, AFP)

(Oil revenue image via Shutterstock)

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and his accompanying delegation met European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs, on January 20, 2014, at the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels.

The two sides reviewed the development programs in Iraq, particularly the assistance provided by the EU in this area and the national development plan for the years 2013 – 2017, especially the fields of education, reform of services sector and provide sustainable energy.

Foreign Minister praised the role played by the EU supportive to Iraq and the assistance it provides for the development plans.

(Source: MoFA)

By Reidar Visser.

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqi cabinet made big headlines today with a shock decision to form three brand new provinces. Supposedly, there will be new governorates in Tuz Khormato (a Turkmen-dominated area currently in Salahaddin province), the Nineveh plains (a Christian-dominated part of Nineveh province) and Falluja (centre of the current Sunni-led uprising in Anbar province).

With a recent decision to create Halabja as a separate governorate in Kurdistan, some observers declared that Iraq all of a sudden has 22 provinces, after decades of relative administrative stability in 18 governorates since the early 1970s.

It is not like the inhabitants of Falluja, Tuz and the Nineveh plains will feel any major changes related to administrative status when they wake up tomorrow. Some of the uncertainty regarding the new move of the Iraqi government can be glimpsed from the language of the cabinet decision itself: The agreement on the formation of these new decisions was made “in principle”, to be completed after the necessary formalities “had been completed”.

Those formalities were not detailed: A special committee including members of the ministries of justice and municipalities will look into the “standards and procedures” necessary to complete the transformation.

This ambiguous choice of language in turn reflects wider legal uncertainties regarding any decision to form new provinces. In theory, despite the absence of any constitutional reference to administrative boundary changes, after 2003 such administrative changes were governed by a Baathist-era law, law no. 159 from 1969, which vested the power to change administrative boundaries in cabinet.

Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani today [Wednesday] addressed a special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Union’s Parliament in Brussels.

In an event attended by a large number of MEPs, in his address the President talked about the latest political and security developments in Iraq, in Kurdistan and in the wider region.

He called on the EU parliament to show solidarity with the people of Kurdistan and called on them to help seek recognition of the crimes against the Kurdistan people in Iraq as crimes of genocide. He said, “We would like you to show solidarity with the rights of the people of Kurdistan. We also call on you to expend all your efforts to recognize the genocide against our people.

The President attributed the relative stability and security in Kurdistan, to the policy of tolerance and peaceful co-existence between the various religious and ethnic communities in Kurdistan.

In the aftermath of the 1991 March uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, we did not set out seek revenge against the people who oppressed us. Again, after the fall of the regime in 2003, we did not take resort to revenge against anyone. We opened a new chapter with our own people and with others, and this greatly helped us focus our efforts on rebuilding our country and lessen the pains and suffering of our people. As a result of this policy, the Kurdistan Region enjoys a high degree of security and stability,” said the President.

Following the President’s address, a number of MEPs posed questions to the President, and they all hailed the important progress that Kurdistan has made in the areas of security, stability, and economic development. They particularly commended President Barzani’s leadership and the KRG for their generous policy of hosting large numbers of refugees and the religious tolerance that prevails in Kurdistan.

Full text of the address delivered by the President:

First, I would like to thank the EU Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee for inviting us here today.