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

Iraq’s favorite lake dries up in sign of worse to come

Karbala’s Lake Milh hasn’t seen a lot of visitors in the last few years. Once a popular picnic destination for Karbala residents, the lake’s water has dwindled, leaving most of it a desert with nothing but derelict fishing boats and dead animals.

The second-largest lake in Iraq, Lake Milh is also known as Lake Razzaza; it lies west of Karbala and southwest of Baghdad. It is fed by the Euphrates River as well as rainfall and groundwater sources. Over the last decade, however, it has been drying up.

Saeed Ali, a fish vendor who lives near the lake, told Al-Monitor, “The lake was an important source of fish in the ’80s and ’90s. But with time, it has become a mere pond that will one day dry out completely if the issue is not addressed.”

Furat al-Tamimi, head of the parliament’s Committee for Agriculture, Water and Marshlands, said the situation requires immediate attention. He told Al-Monitor, “The Ministry of Water Resources and the committee are informed of the situation at Lake Milh. We are tracking the declining water levels at the lake with great concern. This is also happening in many other lakes and rivers.”

Tamimi said the lake’s falling levels are related to the drought that has plagued Iraq since 2017; some estimate the drought will continue until 2026. But there are no plans to restore the lake, said Tamimi, a deputy from Ammar Hakim’s Hikmat movement. He said a number of civil society activists and specialists on natural resources in Karbala province have criticized the “government’s idleness over the water crisis in Lake Milh,” with some activists working together on a media campaign to draw the world’s attention to the lake.

Engineer Aoun Thyab, the most senior member of the advisory board of the Ministry of Water Resources, said the problem is much more complicated. “Addressing this problem is not so simple,” Thyab told Al-Monitor. “Protests and calls on environmental groups won’t solve it because the problem is related to internal and regional policies involving the water sector, as well as the rain and streams that flow from the desert.”

Thyab said the Ministry of Water Resources dropped Lake Milh entirely from its water supply calculations in a 2015 strategic study. “As such, Lake Milh is no longer seen as useful for irrigation, water storage or fish farming.”

He said Lake Milh’s levels decreased from 34 meters (112 feet) above sea level to 20 meters (66 feet) with the drought. “This was due to a number of overwhelming factors, especially the decrease in the Euphrates River, which is the lake’s inflow, because of the Turkish dams that reduced Iraq’s water share. Add to this the scarcer rainfall in recent years and the depletion of streams that flow from the desert around the lake.”

He said, “Lake Milh has also seen higher evaporation levels, which increased salinity, making it effectively impossible for fish to inhabit the lake.” Thyab said that in the 1990s the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture experimented with a project to farm sea fish but that project proved to be a failure. “It is safe to say that the lake is dead.”

Thyab’s remarks indicate that it would be next to impossible to restore Lake Milh as a tourist attraction whose beautiful flora and fauna once brought foreign and Iraqi tourists from every province.

Karbala has also suffered greatly from the armed conflicts in the last decade, most recently when armed groups who fought against the Iraqi state used it as a base. The city of Karbala’s practice of draining polluted water into the lake has also contributed to the problem.

But there is hope for the lake yet. In January, the Iraqi National Investment Commission (NIC) unveiled a $25 million investment project to rehabilitate and develop both Lake Milh and al-Habbaniya, a lake linked to Milh by the narrow Sin-Al-Thibban Canal.

The project includes building a tourist attraction over approximately 4,000 acres and overhauling the existing hotels and 200 apartments to modern standards, as well as a full amusement park, a marina, world-class restaurants and a media center.

The locals worry that the efforts come too late to save the lake. Local engineer Fayez Eisa, who oversees the area’s anti-desertification project, told Al-Monitor, “Tired of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape on contracts and permits, the Karbala Holy Shrine administration has established a green belt around 2000 dunams (494 acres) of desert land, where they dug dozens of wells to provide water to the farming areas around Lake Milh.”

Lakes such as Milh represent essential natural reservoirs in efforts to fight the drought that haunts Iraq’s agriculture sector. Cooperation with neighboring countries to restore and protect them will be crucial to the region’s survival.

(Picture credit: عمر سيروان)

Iraq looks at the requests of foreign companies to invest in the port of Faw

Media treasures / Baghdad …
The Ministry of Transport announced the formation of a joint stock company to manage the port of Faw with a capital of $ 1.3 billion, in addition to considering the requests of foreign companies wishing to invest in this port, which she described as the most prominent economic event.

Minister of Transport Kazem Venjan Al-Yamami said in a statement that "there is a clear progress in the work of the port, especially after the receipt of the Iraqi ports breaker of the eastern waves during the last year by the executing company, where we provided all the possibilities to accelerate its implementation after meeting with companies working in it and overcome the obstacles before it" .

He added that "the ministry is in the arrangement of meetings with the relevant authorities to reach the best way to achieve the port and to identify the problems facing them in the implementation of this large project, which will change the map of global transport, and will be a great support and important for the Iraqi economy for the jobs will provide the stages of implementation and management and accommodate Many hands ".

He stressed that "Basra will have a share in this vital and strategic project through the activation of the private sector, as a real partner in the construction, and the involvement of all other foreign companies wishing to invest in the port of Faw," pointing to "great benefits will be thrown economic effects in several areas and areas" .

For his part, said economic expert Nabil Marsoumi, "The port in the event of completion will provide the state treasury of $ 2 billion annually, and provides jobs for more than 70 thousand workers, and leads to revitalize economic life in a large format, not only in Basra, but in All of Iraq ".

He pointed out that "the study reached the lack of seriousness of successive governments in the completion of the project, as it did not allocate the necessary financial resources for implementation," ruling out "the advent of companies to invest directly in the port before the completion of infrastructure."…8%D9%8A%D8%A9/

The dollar and gold exchange rates in Iraq on Sunday


The wisdom – follow – up: The exchange rate of the dollar, on Sunday, a slight rise against the dinar in the local currency market.

According to the wisdom of the stock market in Baghdad and some provinces, the price of selling the dollar in Baghdad today 120 thousand dinars and the purchase price 120 thousand dinars compared to $ 100.

On the Basra Stock Exchange, the sale price today was 121 thousand and 800 dinars, and the purchase price 123 thousand and 750 dinars for one hundred dollars.

While the price of selling the dollar on the Arbil Exchange today 125 thousand and 250 dinars, the purchase price 125 thousand and 200 dinars compared to $ 100, while yesterday was 125 thousand 450 dinars, and the purchase price 125 thousand and 400 dinars compared to $ 100.

The price of Iraqi gold, today, at 222 thousand dinars for one weight.
The price of the gold weight of the caliber of 21, today 222 thousand, while yesterday recorded the same price of 221 thousand also. "

It is noted that the weight of one gold is equal to 5 grams.

The National Bank of Iraq (NBI) has become the latest member of the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

In a statement, the IBBC said it is delighted to welcome one of Iraq’s preeminent private sector banking organisations to join its growing financial and professional services sector table.

NBI was founded in 1995 as a publicly traded, private sector company offering comprehensive banking services to individuals and businesses. NBI’s paid up capital was increased to IQD 250 Billion (USD 215 million) in December 2013.

NBI has been consistently growing in size and capabilities to serve Iraqi citizens with the highest quality financial services. NBI’s strategy revolves around offering a unique value proposition to multinationals and large corporates looking for professional commercial banking services in Iraq, as well as a solid platform for individuals to interact with. As a Jordan based Group, they are able to offer global access to funds and a comprehensive set of banking services to facilitate banking needs on the ground.

NBI is constantly expanding and modernizing its branch and ATM network in Iraq and are currently the only bank that has a branch in North Rumaila (Basra) and are in the process of opening new branches in Kathimiyya and Jameela in Baghdad and a new technologically advanced branch in Basra. NBI is also heavily investing in advancing its electronic channels and overall technological capabilities in order further modernize the banking process and offer a seamless banking experience to their clients.

NBI offers full-fledged investment banking, wealth management and brokerage services through its sister companies in Jordan, UAE and Iraq. The UAE subsidiary acts as the main gateway for multinationals and GCC based clients looking to raise growth capital or connect with local partners and enter into joint ventures for business expansion or new projects across Iraq. NBI’s investment offering also includes a wide range of advisory services in M&A, investment structuring and debt raising or restructuring.

NBI is regulated by the Central Bank of Iraq and publicly traded on the Iraq Stock Exchange It implements stringent international anti-money laundering and compliance regulations, and is also one of the few banks in Iraq to implement International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), with PWC as its external auditor.

(Source: IBBC)

Government officials discuss with USAID "decentralization" and budgets


After the transfer of powers … Wasit expects to reach revenues to 96 billion dinars
Baghdad / Al-Sabah

Government officials discussed with representatives of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) the coordination of local revenues and budgets between the federal government and local governments during a workshop recently held in Erbil.

The meeting discussed the challenges faced by the federal government and local governments in organizing and framing the relationship between all technical bodies and working to unify visions and coordinate efforts and achieve an integrative relationship. Meanwhile, Wasit governorate expected that the volume of financial revenues will increase to 96 billion dinars during the current year, After decentralization.

The participants agreed on the importance of increasing coordination and development of local capacities while strengthening administrative decentralization through the transfer of financial powers to governorates, stressing the need to avoid problems and clashes that may occur between the federal government and local governments due to inconsistencies in the practical application of instructions or misinterpretation of the basic concepts of objectives.

The head of the Supreme Coordination Committee between the provinces, Tuhran Mufti, said during the workshop:

"The Authority is making great efforts to assist local governments in performing their decentralized functions after the transfer of powers of seven ministries to the provinces.

This requires the development and training of working cadres, especially in the financial and administrative aspects.

For his part, the governor of Wasit Mahmoud Mullah Talal that «the province succeeded in achieving more financial revenues during the past year after it worked to take advantage of the transfer of powers, which contributed to increase the volume of revenues to reach 21 billion dinars, after it was 7 billion in 2016 "

He predicted that« the volume of revenues to 96 billion dinars during the current year ».

The agency, has launched mid-last year in coordination with the Iraqi government, a project to improve performance and achieve good governance for 5 years, at a cost of 160 million dollars, and includes the first phase of the provinces (Baghdad – Basra – Arbil – Babylon – Anbar – Nineveh).

By John Lee.

The US oil company Chevron has signed an agreement with Iraq’s Basra Oil Company (BOC) and Dhi Qar Oil Company (DQOC) to provide expertise and services, including seismic surveys, to the Iraqi companies.

Assim Jihad, Spokesman for the Ministry of Oil, said the Ministry aims to sign more memorandums of understanding with international companies to exchange experience and develop local capabilities in the oil and gas sector.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

Basra Multi-purpose Terminal (BMT), the largest multi-purpose port facility in Iraq, announces a major development in the Port of Umm Qasr.

Marking a significant expansion to their existing facilities, BMT will be increasing their total investment in Umm Qasr Port to over USD 200 million, aimed to further advance the port in the international trade and transport sector.

In addition to BMT’s current 4 berths and 650,000 m2 of terminal space in the port of Umm Qasr, the development entails a further construction of 3 new berths, as well as a new roro berth.

The quay wall that will be constructed at this facility will be based on a block wall construction, a technique that is unique to Iraq. It has a high seismic resistance and a life span of approximately 100 years, without any need for maintenance.

BMT has awarded the quay wall construction contract to the Turkish company Enka.

The design of this new facility was done in cooperation with the Dutch-based engineering consultancy Royal Haskoning DHV.

Once completed, BMT will offer 7 berths in the Port of Umm Qasr, with over 1 million square meters of terminal space. The new terminal will include an area especially designed for receiving heavy lifts cargoes, able to easily withstand cargoes of over 1.000 tons, while the quay wall will be able to receive vessels with a capacity of 14.000 TEUs.

In addition, BMT will furnish their new facility with all new equipment, benchmarking this project on an international scale. All together this investment will further strengthen the position of Iraq as international trade partner in the region.

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Locals in Al Qaim, Anbar, worry that the current stable security situation can’t last. It’s being upheld by US troops and Iran-allied militias, whose antipathy toward one another is becoming more overt all the time.

The people of Al Qaim, a town in the far west of Anbar province, near the border with Syria, is a much happier place these days. During the past three years of the security crisis, sparked by the extremist group known as the Islamic State, it was considered an important base for the group. It was often referred to as the Islamic State group’s secret capital.

“Compared to a year ago the security situation is stable,” says Abdul-Rahman Karbouli, a community leader in Al Qaim, based in the Rumana area. “A year ago, this was a distant dream because of the presence of the extremists. Today we can stay up late without fear and my son works in one of the dairy factories in the city.”

It sounds good but Karbouli says it may not last; there is a big problem brewing. He fears that Al Qaim will fall victim to a conflict between the US military and members of the Shiite Muslim militias. The latter are former volunteers who fought against the Islamic State, or IS, group, but who are now an official part of the state security forces.

“The Iraqi army and the militias are protecting us,” Karbouli says, “but we are hearing an increasing number of threats against the US from the Shiite militias in Anbar.”

Iraqi officials say that the US efforts in Anbar have been indispensable when it comes to securing the country’s porous borders with Syria, borders that allowed the IS fighters to come back and forth at will and which made Al Qaim such a good base for them. The Iraqi military has welcomed US troops. However the Shiite militias, who are doing some of the same work as the Iraqi and US military, are not as keen on the idea.

After the IS group was officially driven out of Al Qaim in November 2017, US troops were deployed to barracks on the outskirts of town, in an area dominated by Sunni Muslim tribes with social and tribal connections to Syrian tribes over the border – in particular the Karableh and Mahalawi clans. But at the same time, Shiite Muslim militias, with strong affiliations to Iran, were also deployed in the area, in what appeared to be a clandestine race for influence in the border area.

Both military groups have a shared objective: To keep the area clear of the IS group and its fighters. In fact, last week, after IS group attacks in Kirkuk and Salahaddin, the Iraqi air force struck locations inside Syria in an attempt to knock out IS cells. And US-Iraqi joint units were able to arrest four senior IS leaders in early May inside Al Qaim.

But there are also other apparent aims of the two anti-IS forces here. Iran has long sought to carve out areas of influence that would allow it an unobstructed path to the sea: Such a path would go through Syria and Iraq. The Shiite Muslim militias associated with Iran, which supplies funding, weapons and advisory, want to open that road. The US forces want to keep it shut.

“The information provided by the friendlies [the way that the Iraqi military describe the international coalition, including the US, fighting the IS group] obtained with their drones and other intelligence information is essential in helping us secure these long borders,” says Saad al-Obeidi, a sergeant with the Iraqi army’s 12th division.

But his division doesn’t just work with the US forces, they also deal with a Shiite Muslim militia in Anbar, the Tafouf Brigade. “The irony is that we are working with bitter rivals,” al-Obeidi says. “The US forces fear the Tafouf brigade in the city and the brigade wants the US forces to withdraw. Every time we meet either group, we hear the bad way they talk about each other.”

When the Iraqi government declared the end of fighting in Anbar, all the Shiite militias withdrew from the Sunni-majority province except the Al Tafouf brigade, stationed in Al Qaim. Its leader is Qassim Musleh, who was actually imprisoned by the US during its invasion of Iraq. He was jailed in a UK base in Basra for three years.

The brigade he commands now is one that split from the Ali Akbar fighting units, which are closely associated with the holy southern city of Karbala and Shia Islam’s highest authority in Iraq, Ali al-Sistani. As such, the Ali Akbar units were more pro-Iraq than pro-Iran. However Musleh was removed from the job, allegedly for mistakes made in battle, and founded a new militia, this time one that was more closely affiliated with Iran.

Mostly the Al Tafouf brigade has been working on removing improvised explosive devices left by the IS group on the roads and trying to ferret out sleeper cells that may still be hiding in the Al Qaim area. Last week, it announced that it had found a secret base belonging to the extremists on the outskirts of the city, complete with tunnels and weapons stores.

“Our brigade has good relations with the people of Al Qaim,” one of the Al Tafouf members, Abdul Amir al-Masoudi, told NIQASH in a phone interview. “But the brigade is not happy with the presence of US troops here. We would like them to leave the city and we believe they are actually supporting the terrorists.”

This is an old rumour that has been repeated many times by the Shiite militias opposed to the US presence in Iraq. As recently as last week, Shiite militia Facebook pages were posting clips of what they said was an American plane over Anbar. They said the plane was being used to transport IS fighters. The Iraqi government and the Ministry of Defence have denied the stories and tried to put a stop to the rumours but some Iraqis still believe the tall tales.

“The US forces, the Iraqi army and the Syrian army are coordinating to control the borders north of the Euphrates river,” a member of Anbar’s provincial council told NIQASH off the record. “The Syrian army and Shiite militias are in control of border areas south of the Euphrates river. It is a complicated but useful equation in terms of defending Anbar. But there is a chance it could all collapse because of tensions between the two groups,” the council member admitted.

“Anbar is always under threat from the extremists and we need the US to help us secure our borders,” he noted. “But we also need the militias to fight the extremists.”

By John Lee.

UAE-based Crescent Petroleum has signed the initial contracts to develop the oil fields of Gilabat-Qumar (in Diyala), Khashim Ahmer-Injana (in Diyala), and Khudher Al-Mai [Khider al-Mai] (in Basra and Muthana).

Mr. Abd Allah Al-Kadhi, the head of exploration and production in the company, said that production will start after three years.

The contracts will now be sent to the Cabinet to be ratified for final signature.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation has been awarded a contract for port construction in the Republic of Iraq.

Extended by the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI), the contract covers a port rehabilitation project in the country’s southern region of Basra, and is valued at approximately 110 million US dollars. The project is being funded through ODA loans provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The project will be executed through a partnership between MC and multiple international contractors, including Turkey-based energy infrastructure provider Calik Enerji (CE), in which MC holds shares, and construction firm Gap Insaat, also Turkey-based.

Both part of the Calik Holding group, these two sister companies will play a major role in executing construction while MC will be responsible for overall project coordination and serve as the prime contractor, facilitating the import of steel structures and other necessary supplies from Japan.

The objective of this project is to modernize existing industrial port facilities around Basra by (i) expanding the oil products berth at Khor Al-Zubair Port, and (ii) building a new service berth for working ships and service boats at Umm Qasr Port.

The rehabilitation of ports throughout Iraq is essential to meeting increasing demands for port infrastructure, which is growing rapidly as the volumes of trade flowing in and out of the country grows. Rehabilitating this critical infrastructure will also contribute to further stabilizing the country’s economy as post-war reconstruction advances.

This project is particularly noteworthy given that Khor Al-Zubair and Umm Qasr are the only ports currently in operation in the Basra region, where a system of ports located in the 48 kilometer wide tip of the country wedged in between Iran and Kuwait along the Persian Gulf gives Iraq its only outlet to the sea.

In addition to this project, MC intends to continue leveraging provisions under the Japanese Government policy framework for promoting export of “high-quality infrastructure” to identify opportunities that support Iraq’s efforts towards reconstruction, economic development, and increased quality of life.

(Source: Mitsubishi Corporation)

(Picture: Takehiko Kakiuchi, President and CEO of Mitsubishi Corporation)