By Omar al-Jaffal for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Coronavirus damages Iraqi economy with fall in tourism, oil prices

As of March 23, Iraq had registered 266 novel coronavirus cases, with 23 deaths. Although Iraq is much better off than many other countries, the fast-growing number of cases – 33 new infections and three more deaths in a 24-hour period – indicate that Iraq soon may face a very difficult situation.

Also, measures the government has taken to fight the virus have damaged the economy; these steps have included imposing a curfew, closing roads between cities and canceling all religious tourism.

This is not mention the oil price drop.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

The Cabinet held its regular weekly meeting in Baghdad on Thursday under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Oil, Thamir Ghadhban.

It reviewed the impact of restrictions to contain covid-19, including curfews, on the health, financial and service sectors, and discussed measures to lessen the burden on Iraqis, receiving briefings from the Minister of Health, Dr. Jaafar Allawi and senior officials on current measures to contain the spread of the epidemic in Iraq.

The Cabinet urged all citizens to abide by curfew regulations and follow the advice of health professionals, including practicing social distancing and avoiding gathering for their own safety and that of all Iraqis.

The Cabinet discussed measures to ensure food security, continuation of essential services, transport of agricultural produce between provinces and requests from a number of Iraqi citizens abroad who wish to return home but are unable to do so because of current restrictions on air travel in several countries.

The Cabinet thanked the Crisis Cell for its role in mobilising national efforts to contain Covid-19, and expressed its gratitude to Iraqi health teams, security forces, volunteers and community leaders for their hard work and dedication at this difficult time.

The Cabinet decided to:

  • Extend the curfew to 11 April 2020 in all regions of Iraq, and for current exemptions to be maintained;
  • Direct all ministries, public bodies and local authorities to use their financial and other resources such as vehicles and equipment to support the Crisis Cell and the Ministry of Health
  • Authorise the Minister of Health to allow some health professionals who have reached retirement age to continue in their posts for the duration of the crisis.

(Source: Govt of Iraq)

Due to a combination of security conditions and restricted travel options as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the US State Department has ordered the departure of designated U.S. Government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, and the U.S. Consulate General in Erbil.

Visa services at both posts remain suspended.  The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Iraq.

Please note that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is not providing public services.  U.S. citizens in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region who need emergency services can contact ErbilACS@state.gov.  U.S. citizens elsewhere in Iraq should contact BaghdadACS@state.govfor emergency assistance.

If you are a U.S. citizen in Iraq on a temporary visit and desire assistance to return to the United States when a flight is available, please contact ErbilACS@state.gov or BaghdadACS@state.gov.

Actions to Take:

  • Depart Iraq by commercial transportation as soon as possible
  • Monitor local media for updates
  • Review personal security plans
  • Remain aware of surroundings
  • Review the complete Travel Advisory for Iraq
  • Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas

Assistance:

  • American Citizen Services Unit, U.S. Embassy Baghdad (public access suspended) or U.S. Consulate Erbil – 413 Ishtar, Ankawa, Erbil, Iraq

(Source: US Embassy)

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq has so far registered 214 coronavirus cases and 17 deaths.

To prevent further spread of the virus, the government imposed a weeklong curfew in Baghdad and other cities and cancelled all domestic flights.

But security forces are still struggling to enforce the lockdown.

Al Jazeera‘s Simona Foltyn reports from Baghdad:

By John Lee.

Iraqi President Barham Salih has named former governor of Najaf, Adnan al Zurfi (pictured), as Prime Minister Designate, asking him to form a new government within 30 days.

The 54-year-old is a member of the small Nasr parliamentary group, led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and was formerly a member of Dawa.

According to AFP, Zurfi fled to Saudi Arabia and then on to the United States following the failed 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein, returning to Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.

He is reported to have dual US and Iraqi citizen, and his wife, five sons and two daughters still live in the US.

(Sources: Govt of Iraq, BBC, AFP, AP, eKurd)

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

Iraqi protesters are seeking to form a political movement to participate in parliamentary elections to be held in 2022.

After holding sit-ins, blocking roads and rallying citizens against other political parties, protesters believe that forming a political movement is the next step.

Iraqi activists and protesters say that a popular movement would create real opposition in the Iraqi parliament.

Change would be affected not only by taking to the streets but by forming a movement without a religious, sectarian or national agenda.

Click here to read the full article.

The Japanese Ambassador to Iraq, Mr. Hashimoto Naofumi (pictured), and Representative of UNESCO to Iraq, Mr. Paolo Fontani, on Tuesday 3rd of March 2020 signed an agreement in Baghdad in support of the project to support job creation for youth in Mosul.

The project aims to foster sustainable job creation for youth supporting the return of IDPs through quality TVET training for skilled construction workers.

The project will be implemented in synergy with other UNESCO activities under the umbrella initiative ‘Revive the Spirit of Mosul’ to coordinate international efforts in revitalizing educational and cultural institutions in Mosul, in close cooperation with the Government and the people of Iraq. This project will have linkages to the EU project “Reviving Mosul and Basra Old Cities”.

Director and Representative of UNESCO Iraq Office praised this innovative contribution:

“UNESCO is very grateful to the Government and the people of Japan. The project will empower young people in Mosul through supporting employment and self-employment and reduce the likelihood of marginalization and extremism.”

Ambassador Hashimoto highlighted:

“Japan has recently decided new assistance package for Iraq amounting to USD 41 million including this project as assistance for youth in Mosul. With this package, the total amount of Japan’s assistance to the people affected by the crisis reaches USD 540 million since 2014.

“I hope that the assistance from the Government and people of Japan will help foster sustainable job creation for youth in Mosul in reconstruction efforts”.

Japan has long been a valued donor to UNESCO in Iraq. In 2019, the Government of Japan supported the project “Voices of the children of Old Mosul: the rehabilitation and management of primary schools in historic urban context emerging from conflict”.

The project lays the ground for a holistic approach to the prevention of violent extremism in primary education with the provision of training to support the four key elements that influence the experience of children’s learning: parents, teachers, school principals and school policies and procedures.

(Source: UN)

Briefing to the Security Council by Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert 3 March 2020

Mister President, thank you so much
Distinguished members of the Security Council,

Iraq has not left the headlines in recent months, as domestic, regional and international events have continued to take their toll on the country.
And while we will explore these events today, I choose to begin with hope:

  • The hope of a people who remain united in their determination for a more just and prosperous future;
  • The hope of a sovereign nation that refuses to become a battleground for conflicts that are not its own;
  • And the hope that Iraq may very well find itself at the most opportune moment for genuine and lasting political reform in a generation.

But for this to materialize, political leaders and communities will have to step up to the plate: placing the country’s interest above all else, building domestic strength.

And within this context, it is important not to sugar coat the current harsh reality.

The many brave Iraqis – who continue to pay an unimaginable price for their voices to be heard – deserve that we recognize the intolerable abuses they have been subjected to.

The killings. The abductions. The violence. The intimidation. The threats. These abhorrent human rights violations are ongoing and fly in the face of all that is decent. They have no place in a democracy, any democracy.

And yes, of course, we do recognize the challenges of operating within a fluid, puzzling security context with multiple actors. However, as I have stated many times: the ultimate responsibility for the peoples’ safety and security undeniably rests with the State.

It is therefore imperative to put an end to these abuses. Moreover, it is imperative that perpetrators be brought to justice. Impunity ends where accountability begins.

And let me emphasize: justice and accountability are a matter of burning importance to the many Iraqis who have lost their loved ones or seen them injured, for no other reason than expressing their frustration with poor economic, social and political prospects.

Justice and accountability should also be a pressing matter for the State of Iraq. The rule of law must be strengthened if public trust is to take root.

Now Mister President,
As I have stated time and again: Iraq’s problems did not occur overnight, nor will they be solved in an instant.

Yet times of crisis also present opportunities. And I sincerely hope that Iraqi political leaders will recognise in this moment the crossroads where they either stand idle, or where they place themselves in the service of their countrymen and women. But I have to say: the critical window of opportunity is closing fast.

Now, with regard to the participation of Iraqi women in the ongoing public protests, it is unprecedented and marks a new page in the history of women’s grassroots mobilization in Iraq. Political leaders should heed this call.
Going back to the streets: the security picture is undeniably complex and most challenging to manage. We witness ambiguously identified armed entities with unclear loyalties. And we see groups or individuals using the cover of peaceful protesters and/or security forces to muddy the issues, misleading the public, harming the country’s interest, confusing the scene and causing casualties.

All of this is part of Iraq’s tough reality.

And as Secretary-General Guterres recently stated: “The large number of armed groups operating outside state control is preventing the country from functioning as a normal state.”

However, it bears repeating that this is not something political leaders should hide behind. On the contrary. They must dismantle or formally integrate these armed entities under full state control without delay. In other words: this is no excuse for political and governmental inaction.

Now Mister President,
After five months of protests, and the many injured and killed, it should be clear that peaceful protesters – backed by a silent majority – it should be clear that they will not budge on their aspirations. Now, this should be the political class’ first and last concern – but so far, we have seen few results.
And let me be clear: delivering on the demands of the people will require a collective effort. I again emphasize that no Prime Minister can go it alone. Every single political actor and leader is fully responsible for restoring the critical confidence of the public in their government and its institutions.

Late last November, the Prime Minister announced his resignation, which was soon approved by Parliament and the President.

The designation of a new Prime-Minister, and subsequent attempts to form a new government, ultimately failed due to distrust and disunity. This led to a complicated situation in which the Prime Minister-designate was not able to obtain sufficiently broad support to form his government within 30 days.

Within the last three days, we saw the withdrawal of the candidacy of the Prime Minister-designate – accepted by the President -, and the announcement by the previous and current caretaker Prime Minister that he was stepping back from most of his duties while calling on parliament to seek early elections in December 2020.
Constitutionally, the President now has another 15 days to nominate a new PM-designate, whose government and programme would again be subject to parliamentary endorsement. And While political consultations are ongoing, the question remains whether political parties will find a new consensus-candidate within these time limits.

Clearly, all this prolongs uncertainty and causes significant challenges – further eroding public trust.

Mister President,
One way or another: the road ahead remains fraught with difficulties.

I already mentioned the pressing need for accountability and justice. And another top priority is corruption: perhaps the greatest source of dysfunction in Iraq, and sadly, a core feature of Iraq’s current political economy. It is built into everyday transactions.

A related feature of Iraq’s political economy is its reliance on patronage and clientelism. This has resulted in a ballooning, inefficient public service that functions more as an instrument of political favour than as a servant of the people.

Now, A cynic would describe this “payroll corruption” as the perfect electoral mobilization strategy, where – perversely – low turnout benefits those pursuing their own narrow, partisan and/or transactional objectives.

Now It is important to tackle the system as precisely that: a system and not just a series of individuals or occurrences. Each bribe or favour serves to reinforce the existing structure.

Therefore, full systemic reform will be necessary. And no one understands this better than the Iraqi woman and man whose chances of a more prosperous life continue to be undermined by a system which ignores them.

Mister President,
Iraq is by no means a poor country, but as I said: private and partisan interests conspire to divert resources away from critical investment in the way forward.

Iraq’s massive oil wealth has financed a crude rentier system that sees enormous revenues converted to salaries in unproductive sectors.

Now While external factors (such as regional tensions and oil price fluctuations), while they continue to weigh on the national economy, there are internal factors which Iraq can control. Reducing bureaucracy, increasing the ease of doing business, strengthening the rule of law, anti-corruption mechanisms: these measures can all incentivize the domestic private sector while attracting foreign investment. These steps are necessary to build a healthy environment that is conducive to broad-based, fairly distributed growth and employment generation.

Iraq must also build, repair and upgrade critical infrastructure, and broaden its revenue base to reduce its dependency on hydrocarbons. Now, Agriculture is already showing promise – good news – as a candidate for investment. And an agricultural revival, in the birthplace of agriculture, will not only improve employment and social cohesion (notably in liberated rural areas) but also strengthen Iraqi food security.

And Within this context, I would also like to highlight the creative resilience of the Iraqi people. Because If one looks beyond the statistics and legal structures, we observe – on the street – plenty of commercial activity. And One can only imagine what this spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship could achieve if freed from the burdens of red tape and bribes.

Mister President,
An important aspect of corruption is illicit financial flows: they not only help explain why Iraqis continue to await roads, hospitals, schools, and legal employment opportunities. They also contribute to further destabilization, by providing channels for the financing of organized crime and violent extremism.

And with regards to violent extremism, we cannot ignore the continued threat of terrorism.

Although ISIL has been defeated territorially, it continued – in the past two months – its attempts to increase its military operations in northeastern Diyala, northern Baghdad and areas of western Iraq.

it goes without saying that ISIL must not be allowed to regroup and recruit. And while constructive negotiations between Iraq’s government and its allies are ongoing, following the vote on the parliamentary resolution on the presence of foreign troops, Iraq’s allies continue to assist the government and its institutions in the fight against ISIL.

Now It is obvious that a strong state which has a monopoly on the use of force is best equipped to face these multiple security threats. And of course, an equally powerful tool against violent extremism is fairness and justice.

Mr. President, turning to the need for free, fair and credible elections. While the “electoral reset” is a top priority for many – broad, underlying systemic reform and a strong, independent electoral commission will prove crucial.

In other words: the newly appointed electoral commission will need to stand with greater resolve in adhering to the principles of transparency, accountability, independence and professionalism as they rebuild the commission’s institutional capacities and kick-start technical electoral preparations.

Moreover, in order to firm up the electoral calendar, there is an immediate need to complete the electoral legal framework. Parliament must act on pending, urgent elements of the electoral law, in particular constituency demarcation and seat apportionment, hopefully bringing voters closer to the candidates and making future elected representatives accountable to their constituents.

Now Turning to Baghdad-Erbil relations, notwithstanding an encouraging preliminary deal between the KRG and the Federal Government on oil and revenue sharing, we continue to await a final, long-term and sustainable agreement on this file as well as on security co-operation and Sinjar.

Mr. President,
I think we can all agree that the volatile domestic and regional climate took an extraordinary toll on Iraq in the past months. To point out the obvious, the state-to-state violence we saw play out across Iraq earlier this year, was received as a clear and substantial threat to the country.

The modus operandi and rules of engagement have shifted, and the risk of rogue action by armed groups with unclear reporting lines is a constant concern.

Beyond the immediate security threat, this also takes critical political attention away from urgent unfinished domestic business. But As I have stated before, regional security developments should not eclipse domestic priorities.

Now The question is whether Iraq will flourish as a venue for peace and understanding, or suffer as the arena of external battles.

Mr President,
I will now turn to the issue of missing Kuwaiti, third-country nationals and missing Kuwaiti property, including the national archives.

Hopes renewed in January when new human remains were discovered and exhumed from a third grave in Samawa. Despite a very challenging operational context, the Iraqi Ministry of Defence has demonstrated commendable focus on this important file, leading the excavation efforts with assistance from the ICRC.

And I truly hope that the DNA identification of these newly discovered human remains, as well as those that are still being analysed in Kuwait, that it will prove positive and that it will bring closure to the families and relatives of those who went missing nearly thirty years ago.

The contribution of the Tripartite Committee members through the provision and analysis of satellite imagery, supported by witness information, it all proved crucial in locating the Samawa sites. And I would like to call all members of the Committee to continue their steadfast support to the efforts underway for other potential burial sites.

Mr President,
In closing, It was my intention to conclude with words of hope. But the ongoing political indecisiveness and dissension, leading to a further paralysis in decision-making, unfortunately do not give cause for immediate optimism. The country and its people continue to be pushed into the unknown.

Also, the repeated pattern of parliamentary sessions which have failed to reach quorum is exactly the opposite of what the country needs, especially during a period of acute political crisis. The fundamental mandate of an elected representative is: to be present, to be counted and to vote.

Now Like I said last time: out of the ongoing political crisis – a fairer, stronger and inherently more resilient Iraq can emerge. But again, for this to materialize: political leaders will have to act fast, placing the country’s interest above all else.

Iraq must and can find strength in diversity, recognizing a cohesive society as more than the sum of its parts.

Putting out one fire after the other is no strategy. It must move from constant crisis management to sustainable and stable politics, building resilience through deep and broad systemic reform. And as we all know: at the end of the day, Mr. President, strength at home is a prerequisite for strength abroad.

Thank you.

(Source: UN)

By Hafsa Halawa for The Middle East Institute. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi politics continues to unravel as Allawi withdraws

Politics in Iraq continues its calamitous unravelling following the failure of Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi to form a government within the allotted 30 days since his nomination.

On the night of March 1, Allawi withdrew his nomination, citing powers that aimed to bring him down and a refusal by the political elite to engage in meaningful reform.

He gave a statement where he noted that “the choice was to become PM at the expense of the people and their suffering … and I choose to stand with the people.

Click here to read the full article.

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

Protesters in Iraq have changed the venue of their protests from Baghdad to Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar province, 360 kilometers (223 miles) south of the Iraqi capital. Decisions on the revolution will now be made in Nasiriyah.

Protests are held almost in all Iraqi southern cities, but Baghdad was the center of the protests movement, where all other protests follow its direction and guidance.

Click here to read the full article.