By John Lee.

The Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) has reportedly extended of the ban on regular flights in the country until 15th July.

According to Xinhua, the ban includes both domestic and international flights with the exception of those of emergency, medical evacuation and air cargo as well as planes that cross Iraqi airspace.

In another exception, Iraqi Airways will resume commercial flights between Baghdad and Beirut starting 2nd July.

(Source: Xinhua)

In Iraq, a country most recognized for its oil production, it’s the micro – small – and medium-enterprises (MSMEs) that bring life and colour to the streets. Despite being the ‘small’ players in business, the private sector (excluding oil) accounts for close to 60% of employment, with MSMEs active in the widest range of sectors and with the greatest opportunities for youth.

In Basra City and Al-Qurna, two cities in the largest oil producing region in the nation, the unemployment rate has risen to at least 30% in recent years. Largely attributed to the lack of government employment opportunities and the skills mismatch of the growing youth demographic, investment in micro- small- and medium-enterprises is bringing new hope and opportunities for economic development.

Since mid-2019, the United Nations Development Programming (UNDP), in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), has provided targeted support to 319 new and established MSMEs across Basra City and Al-Qurna through business development training and cash-grants. The training worked to build skills that would enable enterprise growth, such as finance and accounting, marketing, human resources and employment management, as well as soft skills such as communication, leadership, negotiation skills, decision making and problem solving.

“I learned the importance of good leadership,” says Labieb, 57, father-of-5 and owner of a cherry and nuts store in Basra City. “I also learned how to best deal with customers and be part of a team.” Following completion of his training and receiving his cash-grant, Labieb was able to hire an additional staff member to manage increased stock and customers and enjoyed a 15% increase in profits.

But like most other cities around the world, the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 was also felt in Basra and Al-Qurna. Businesses took all precaution to prevent the spread of the virus, ensuring the safety of both staff and customers by wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhering to the government curfews, with limited operating hours. By demonstrating solidarity, these business owners were not only able to continue making a livelihood for themselves and their employees, but to set an example for the community.

“As a business owner, I am empowered to build something successful – that I created the plan for, and that enables me to give back to the community,” explains Hisham, 40, father-of-2 and owner of a small five-a-side football stadium in Abu Al-Khaseeb.

For Kawthar and Jenan, both mothers-of-five and owners of successful beauty salons in Basra and Al-Qurna respectively, hygiene and care are always a big part of their daily work. “After receiving the grant, I was able to hire three new staff members and saw my profits increase by 40% – this is because I put together a good business plan, but also because we take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and others safe,” says Kawther.

MSMEs continue to face challenges to their growth during COVID-19 pandemic, limiting their capacity to hire additional employees, but with the recognition and support they need, could MSMEs be the way forward for economic growth in Iraq?

Sustainable livelihoods through small business development and job placement in Basra

Together with NRC, and generous funding support from the Government of Japan, UNDP has supported 319 MSMEs through training and cash-grants and placed 125 individuals in jobs through private sector partnerships, since mid-2019.

(Source: UNDP)

Characterized by long, hot and clear summers, Najaf, Iraq’s holy city, seems like the ideal place to realize the potential for solar energy in Iraq. Which is why in 2016, Najaf was selected as one of three sites to pilot rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems, testing their potential for application across the sunny nation.

Energy consumption in Iraq is dominated by fossil fuels, at 96%. Not only is this a missed opportunity for the subtropical nation, but it has had very real, and visible consequences for the environment. As public infrastructure struggles to cope with the growing population, dependency on diesel generators has created a smoggy reality, with the air pollution levels in Iraq linked to health consequences for the nation.

In 2016, with support from the Global Environment Fund (GEF), six families were selected to receive rooftop solar PV systems. These initial six families, were selected as part of a pilot to raise awareness and demonstrate the potential benefits of solar energy. Since then, some of these families have benefitted from the cost savings and all are excited by a new vision for clean energy and solar for their country.

“I knew that using solar energy had positive returns on the environment, and in a country like my homeland, Iraq, there is an urgent need to use it,” explains Ihsan, 49-year-old father-of-four and recipient of a rooftop solar PV system in Najaf. “But I was also surprised in many aspects, I didn’t know that by generating clean energy, I could contribute to my community,” he adds, pointing to the excess energy the panels provide being pumped back into the government grid.

For Qusai, a 45-year-old father-of-four and Ihsan’s neighbor, the benefit was also linked to the “clean” aspect of solar energy production, “The financial burden of relying on expensive diesel generators and the noise and smog produced, makes solar energy very appealing,” he explains. “It’s also very efficient!”

On average, each of the six households were able to save $2,300 over the past four years and a total of 58,000 kgs of CO2 was saved from being emitted into the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent of consuming more than 7,000 gallons of diesel.

But to make the use of solar energy more sustainable, UNDP and the GEF knew that Iraq would need trained and experienced personnel to maintain and repair the systems.

Faridha, a local Najaf resident and Head of Amal Al-Hayat Organisation for Culture and Information, was one of 25 civil society organization members – including 15 women – trained in operating and maintaining solar PV systems, to both support the piloting of these systems over the past four years, but also act as advocates for the adoption of cleaner, greener energy across Najaf.

“Before the training, we had heard about solar energy, but we did not know how we could benefit from it in Iraq, especially in the province of Najaf,” she explains. “Solar energy is an investment for the citizen. If people consume wisely, they benefit not just themselves, but their community.”

(Source: UNDP)

Siemens Energy and the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity have signed a contract for the Al Hamudhia substation, which will provide reliable and efficient power supply to the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah, Saqlawyah, Khalediyah and surrounding areas in Al Anbar governorate, North West of Baghdad.

Located about 20 kilometers away from Ramadi city, the turnkey 400- kilovolt (kV) Al Hamudhia substation will support greater grid connectivity and allows for a higher utilization of the Al Anbar power plant’s generated power, supporting anticipated energy demand growth of 10% annually.

Ammar Mohammed Kadhim, General Director of Planning and Studies Department, Iraqi Ministry of Electricity and the Head of the Japanese loan team “IQP22” projects at the Ministry, which are being financed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said:

A top priority for the new government of Iraq is rebuilding the country’s power infrastructure. Upgrading and strengthening the Iraqi power grid is crucial to this ambitious plan, which will ultimately support Iraq’s economic, industrial and infrastructure development.

“We’re already working on comprehensive grid projects across the country in collaboration with international partners, like Siemens, to deploy the most reliable and advanced technologies.

The new substation will connect up to 750 Megavolt Amperes (MVA) to the national grid, helping decrease bottlenecks and transmission losses. Construction of Al Hamudhia station is expected to start in July 2020, and is scheduled for completion in July 2022.

Mahmoud Hanafy, Senior Vice President, Transmission Solutions at Siemens Energy, Middle East, said:

The new substation will support in providing reliable power to the homes and industries in the governorate of Al Anbar.

“Our grid technology enables more reliable, sustainable, efficient and flexible power systems. From transporting electricity from power plants to the distribution stations, all the way to the citizens, our ability to optimize flexibility and efficiency will contribute to boosting the transmission infrastructure of Iraq.

Part of the JICA’s projects in Iraq, the 400-kV Al Hamudhia’s scope of work includes the design, construction, equipment supply, erection, testing and commissioning and training of personnel. The project will be completed by Siemens Energy’s engineers in collaboration with specialized local Iraqi subcontractors.

The company is currently building 13, 132/33-kilovolt substations as part of the Siemens Roadmap for the Electrification of Iraq. These projects aim to strengthen the country’s electricity transmission and distribution network – with a particular focus on the governorate of Basra as well as the other governorates that are located in the middle and south of the country. Siemens is also supplying 35 power transformers to support the Iraqi power grid.

In April 2019, Siemens and the Government of Iraq signed an agreement to implement Phase 1 of the Roadmap, which is designed to meet the country’s reconstruction and power sector goals, and includes the addition of new and highly-efficient power generation capacity, rehabilitation and upgrade of existing power plants and the expansion of transmission and distribution networks. Following Siemens Roadmap for the Electrification of Iraq agreement, 791 MW of electricity has already been added to the country’s grid.

(Source: Siemens)

By Azhar Al-Ruabie for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Basra, the richest city in Iraq with little water to drink

Iraq’s third-largest city, Basra, was once called “Venice of the East” due to the numerous water canals and bridges meandering throughout the entire city.

This description is no longer true, as the Shatt al-Arab (“Stream of the Arabs”) and its branches have become polluted with algae, bacteria, chemical toxins, and waste products from humans, hospitals and factory residuals.

Click here to read the full story.

By Toby Dodge, for Chatham House. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s), and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Twin Pillars of US Policy Puts Iraqi Dialogue at Risk

A new strategic dialogue between US and Iraqi governments is meant to place the bilateral relationship on a sustainable basis.

But current US policy towards the region will make this tough to achieve.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

A spike in violations of the right to free expression during widespread protests at the end of the former government’s term in office and during the Covid-19 pandemic underscores the need for Iraq’s new government to reform its laws, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Monday.

Iraqi authorities, including in the Kurdistan Region, have routinely used vaguely worded laws to bring criminal charges against people who express opinions they dislike.

More here.

(Source: HRW)

Consul General in Erbil Virtually Meets President and Students of Sulaimaniya University

The U.S. Consul General in Erbil, Steve Fagin, met virtually with Dr. Ridha Hassan Hussein, President of Sulaimaniya University and students to discuss future academic collaboration, the impact of COVID19 and recent activities organized by the American Corner in Sulaimaniya.

Consul General Fagin encouraged the university students and staff to apply for exchange programs sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

The U.S. remains committed to building academic linkages between U.S. institutions and universities in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

(Source: US Embassy in Baghdad)

Iran signed an agreement on exports of electricity to neighboring Iraq, covering 2020 and 2021.

The two sides signed the agreement during a visit to Baghdad by Iran’s Minister of Energy Reza Ardakanian, stressing their determination to broaden cooperation in the energy sector, despite American pressure on the Iraqi government to reduce economic ties with its neighbor.

Ardakanian in an interview highlighted the achievements of his one-day visit to Baghdad, where he signed the contract with the Iraqi Electricity Ministry.

The new agreement, he said, covers 2020 and 2021, while the previous deals had lasted for one-year periods.

He said Baghdad paid Tehran about $400 million – half of Iraq’s due debts to Iran for electricity supply – thanks to the Iranian Embassy’s follow-up efforts in the Iraqi capital.

The minister also noted that he discussed with Iraqi officials a three-year cooperation plan earlier signed between the countries’ private sectors to reconstruct Iraq’s electricity industry.

He further announced plans for a visit by Iranian technical teams to Iraq next week to pen two important agreements on reducing power grid losses and repairing electricity equipment, according to Press TV.

Heading a delegation of electricity experts, Ardakanian visited Iraq on Wednesday and held meetings with senior officials, including Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, President Barham Salih and Electricity Minister Majid Mahdi Hantoush.

The Iraqi Prime Minister’s office said in a statement that Kadhimi had, in his meeting with Ardakanian, stressed Baghdad’s willingness to develop the best of relations with its neighbors.

The two sides exchanged views on cooperation opportunities in the energy sector and boosting bilateral ties between the two neighboring states, according to the statement.

Kadhimi also underlined the need for maximum efforts to resolve complicated problems gripping the region.

Separately, the Iraqi president’s office released a statement on Ardakanian’s meeting with Salih, saying the latter called for bilateral interactions, especially in the fields of electricity and water.

The two officials, the statement read, also explored ways to enhance bilateral relations in all sectors in line with mutual interests.

Iraq and Iran share a 1,400-kilometer-long border. Except for gas and power, Iraq depends on Iran for everything from food, fruits and vegetables to machinery and home appliances.

Iranian energy accounts for between 30 and 40 percent of the electricity consumed in Iraq.

Over the past months, Washington has been pressing Baghdad to stop buying natural gas and electricity from Tehran as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign aimed at choking off Iran’s revenue.

Illegal US sanctions are preventing Iran from repatriating its money.

Last month, Iraq’s former electricity minister Luay al-Khatteeb said Iran will remain a key source of energy to the Arab country for years to come until suitable alternatives materialize.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)