By Ahmed Tabaqchali. Originally published by Iraq in Context; re-published by Iraq Business News with permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Current analysis of renewed Iran sanctions often overlooks the wider context of Iraq’s regional trading relations. 

The extent of Iraq’s compliance with US sanctions on Iran has raised concerns regarding the loss of Iranian exports to its economy. However, Iraq’s trade with Iran, when looked at in the context of the wider region, shows these concerns in a different light.

It is arguably smaller than is widely perceived, especially given the long border between the two nations and the supposedly strong influence of Iran in Iraq, something which is contested.

There are many variables, following the imposition of sanctions, that will influence Iraq’s economy and trading relationships, making it difficult to examine any change in Iraq-Iran trade in isolation. Some of these variables are China’s response to these sanctions – its continued or increased purchase of Iranian oil or to impose tariffs on US crude- in light of its escalating trade war with the US.

Add to this the effects on oil demand from a change in world growth prospects as a result of an intensifying US-China trade war. Balancing or complicating events is the success of Saudi Arabia in sustaining increased oil production, or Iraq’s ability to increase its oil production. Finally, the state of the Turkish economy and the declining value of the Turkish Lira (TL[i]), in light of recent events, will play essential roles given Turkey’s substantial trading relationship with Iraq.

Much of the recent coverage of Iran’s trading relationship with Iraq refers to the significant annual exports of USD 12bn- which while significant, should be taken in the framework of Iraq’s overall imports and the trend of these imports from 2003-2017 (chart below). Additionally, Iran’s trade like, all other neighbouring nations’ trade with Iraq, is one-sided to its benefit. Iranian exports to Iraq are made up of goods and services, with the goods element at about USD 6bn for the 12 months ending March 2018[ii], which corresponds to about 15% of Iraq’s imports for 2017.

Iraq’s imports exploded six-fold from 2003 until 2013 to satisfy the population’s demand for goods after the isolation of the years under the sanctions. All of Iraq’s neighbours: Turkey, Iran and Jordan saw massive growth of exports to Iraq during this period for all types of goods, from fresh foods to finished products, given the near destruction of Iraq’ capacity to produce during the 14 years of sanctions and the ensuing civil war.

Iraqi Imports 2003-2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/iraq/imports)

Iraq imports peaked in 2013, after which the twin shocks of the ISIS war and the collapse in oil prices crushed the economy and with-it Iraq’s demand for goods. The effects of the ensuing ISIS conflict on overland trade routes affected the relative performance in the following years of each country’s exports.

The transit routes and volumes for 2014 (before the full effects of conflict and economic contraction) show the relative importance for each route, not only for the trade with a particular country, but that country’s additional role as a source of re-exports (chart below). In particular, Turaybill for Jordanian exports and re-exports coming from Aqaba, Kuwait’s Safwan, and Basra as a route for world exports as well as for UAE exports and re-exports from Jebil Ali. By 2014 exports from Syria ceased with the exception of the Al Waleed crossing, until it too ended when it fell under ISIS control in May 2015[iii]. Trade with Saudi Arabia ended with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Iraq: Trade transit routes & volumes 2014

 (Source: Chart taken from a World Bank Report[iv])

Iranian exports peaked in absolute terms in 2013, declining by about 6% by 2017, while Iraq’s imports declined by 36%, with the result that Iran increased its market share from 11% in 2013 to 15% in 2017. However, this has more to do with the trade routes than any special relationship that Iraq might have with Iran or Iran’s competitiveness. The ISIS occupation closed Iraq’s trade route with Jordan, Syria and degraded the value of the routes with Turkey given ISIS’s occupation of Mosul and surrounding areas.

The growth in Iran’s exports from 2004 is shown in the chart below (data are based on the Iranian calendar up to the year 1395, ending in March 2017). Latest reports indicate that the figure was almost unchanged for the year ending in March 2018. Yet, Iraq’s overall imports recovered by 13% in 2017 vs 2016, and its imports from Jordan and Turkey increased by 8% and 19% respectively. All of which put the relative value of trade with Iran in context.

Given Iran’s natural geographical advantages from the long border and its supposed hegemony over Iraq, it can be argued that it should have accounted for much more of Iraq’s imports or at least cemented its conflict enhanced position when Iraq’s imports recovered. Instead it lost market share from 2016 to 2017, implying that it would continue to lose market share without the imposition of sanctions, and as such the sanctions would only accelerate this trend.

Iranian exports to Iraq 2004 – 2016

 

(Source: http://www.iraqbase.com/trade_with_iraq/iraq_tradition.aspx#c_31)

While Turkey’s exports of around USD 12bn in 2013 were twice Iran’s levels, most of these exports were destined for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in which Turkish goods and companies played a significant role in the economic boom the region witnessed until 2014.  The KRI, in 2017, accounted for 67% of all Turkey’s exports to Iraq up from 50% in 2007[v].

Turkish exports to Iraq suffered significantly due to the triple shock to the KRI’s economy – the loss of federal budget transfers, the ISIS conflict and the oil price collapse – as well as from the contraction of the Iraqi economy. Turkish exports declined 36% in 2013-2016 vs a decline of 43% in Iraq’s total imports, increasing its market share from 20% to 22%. The effective gain in market share is more significant than that, as most of these exports were for Iraq overall as opposed to being concentrated in the KRI. Turkish exports’ 18% recovery in 2017 and total imports’ 13% increase vs flat Iranian exports emphasises the competitiveness of Turkey’s exports whether due to quality or currency competitiveness vs the Iranian Rial.

Finally, the value of Turkish exports actually increased by about 25% in TL terms[vi], as the TL exchange rate against the USD decreased from TL 2.15 by end of 2013 to TL 3.79 by the end of 2017. All of which underlines the importance to Turkey of its exports to Iraq, especially in light of the 40% decline in the TL vs the USD so far in 2018. The significance of these exports might very well increase Iraq’s bargaining power with Turkey over many issues, particularly the water flow of the Tigris and Euphrates. Iraq’s relative bargaining power is further enhanced by the fees -converted to TL- collected for the oil that is shipped through Turkey to its port of Cihan, especially if Iraq resumes the Kirkuk oil exports of 250,000-300,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) that were cut after it reasserted feral authority over these fields in October 2017[vii].

Turkish exports to Iraq 2004 – 2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/turkey/exports/iraq)

Jordan’s exports and re-exports to Iraq suffered a great deal due to the closure of the land routes as a result of the ISIS occupation and subsequent conflict. The chart below shows a decline of 64% from 2013 to 2016 in Jordan’s exports, and probably a similar decline for re-exports. The mild recovery of 8% by 2017 from 2016’s low levels should be seen in the context that the trade route only reopened in October 2017, which argues well for meaningful growth in 2018[viii]. While Jordan’s economy is too small to fully replace Iran’s exports, its fresh foods[ix] would fill some of the gap and its much larger re-exports through Aqaba will make a difference.

Jordan’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/jordan/exports/iraq)

Kuwait’s exports to Iraq recovered meaningfully in 2017 after a decline in 2013-2016, yet overall volumes are small. Most of these are re-exports through Safwan as Kuwait’s ports complement Basra.

Kuwait’s exports to Iraq 2003-2017

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/kuwait/exports/iraq)

The biggest potential beneficiaries from the sanctions would be Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Developing their relationship and influence in Iraq through trade and investments is magnified without competition from Iranian goods. Their economies would benefit from both the opportunity to replace Iranian products and from a sizeable recovering market. Even though 2016[x] was a low point for UAE’s total exports to Iraq, exports accounted for 53% of the mix making Iraq the seventh largest export market, while re-exports accounted for 47% of the mix, with Iraq as the fourth largest re-export market.  All of which highlights Iraq’s importance to both the UAE’s economy and its vital re-export business.

UAE’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/united-arab-emirates/exports/iraq)

Trading with Saudi Arabia ended with the occupation of Kuwait, and while it saw a recovery since 2003, it remained tiny compared to the sizes of the two economies. The re-opening of the Arar border crossing in late 2017, coupled with the re-setting of the relationship, will change this significantly with Saudi expectations that trading values would approach those of Iran in ten years’ time[xi].

Saudi Arabia’s exports to Iraq 2003-2016

 

(Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/saudi-arabia/exports/iraq)

However, there is more to Iraq’s trade with Iran other than its exports of goods, as the relationship includes the export of electricity and gas, as well religious tourism in the form of at least three million religious tourists a year, especially during the annual Arbaeen pilgrimage.

Iran’s recent exports of electricity have been about 1.0 gigawatts[xii] (GW) increasing available domestic supply to 18.91 GW[xiii] by end of 2016. However, the supply has been frequently interrupted since 2015 as Iraq has failed to make the required contractual payments to Iran[xiv]. The supply cut in July 2018 being the latest case – which was a combination of over-due bills of about USD 1bn[xv] and Iran’s increased domestic needs for electricity. The argument over the importance of this supply has been made moot as Iran would not be able to resume exports in the near future, due to its own domestic needs[xvi]. Short-term solutions to replace this lost supply from Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have the potential to become long-term solutions that will further cement the relationship.

For instance, Kuwait supplying fuel for some of the inactive power stations would go some way for Iraq to increase the utilization of its available but unutilized generating capacity due to lack of fuel. This relationship could be developed to one of mutual benefits with Kuwait supplying electricity in return for Iraq supplying gas[xvii], which while mutually beneficial would help the rebuilding of trust. Similarly, discussions with Saudi Arabia for the supply of electricity, possibly under much more advantageous commercial terms[xviii] than those with Iran, would further develop this relationship.

Much more troublesome and very difficult to replace would be the supply of Iranian gas to power stations in Baghdad and Basra – these were based on deals signed in 2013 to supply 9.1 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM) a year to each city. Exports to Baghdad started in June 2017 and totalled 1.2 BCM by November 2017[xix], while exports to Basra were supposed to start after May 2018[xx].  Both sides have been silent on this recently, as media reports have only covered Iraq’s implementation of the sanctions in the form of banking transactions and closing access to Iranian goods. While details could be delayed until the November implementation of the oil sanctions or Iraq would seek waivers. Either way, there are no easy or short-term solutions for the replacement of this vital supply apart from increased focus and spending on capturing flared gas. However, this gas has been only available recently, and in relatively small quantities, while its eventual replacement, i.e. gas recovered from flaring, is substantially cheaper as the Iraqi government pays the Basra Gas Company (BGC) about USD 2.50 per MMBtu vs for Iranian USD 6.6 – 7.2 per MMBtu[xxi] (data as of early 2018).

Religious tourism is an important sector, employing about 160,000 people directly, extending to 447,000 beneficiaries (2014 data[xxii]). While, Iranian pilgrims and visitors are an essential component in religious tourism, yet a significant percentage of pilgrims or visitors are Iraqis. Moreover, the importance to Iraq’s economy from the spending of Iran’s pilgrims is somewhat misunderstood or overstated. For instance, during the Arbaeen, Iraqis provide hospitality through offering accommodation in their homes and providing free food as part of their religious duties towards the pilgrims[xxiii]. As such, the extra consumer spending during the most prominent religious event comes from Iraqis. The spending by regular Iranian religious visitors, throughout the year, will not be so easily replaced- although it is mitigated by the fact that almost all those visitors use Iranian airlines and employ Iranian tour operators.

Finally, the effects, of the loss of USD access for Iran, on Iraq would take a long time to assess. In 2012, the governor of the Central Bank of Iraq[xxiv] suggested that there were increased demands of 40-50% for the USD following the imposition of sanctions on Syria and Iran, which led to an increase in the market price of the USD vs the Iraqi Dinar (IQD) as can be seen from the chart below.

Iraqi Dinar (IQD) exchange rate versus the USD Jan 2011 – August 2018

 

(Source: Central Bank of Iraq, Iraqi currency exchange houses, Asia Frontier Capital)

(Note: The sharp pikes in 2012, 2013 & 2015 were due to CBI policies that restricted the sale of USD, but abandoned after causing a rise in market rates)

The convergence of the market price of the USD and the official exchange rate vs the IQD came to an end in 2011 and diverged in 2012 due to the increased demand for the USD. Apart from the spikes due to policies to limit the official supply of the USD, the normal range was 2-4% premium of the market price over the official rate. This increased up to a 10% premium during the worst of the crisis as oil revenues were substantially below expenditures and exports were less than imports. This divergence came to an end with the recovery in oil prices and the declining cost of war until it stabilized at around 1.5% premium to the official exchange rate.

It’s difficult to make the same argument today about the increased demand, or at least a sharp increase, from the current round of sanctions given that the re-integration of Iran with the world economy following the signing of the JCPOA (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) still suffered from the reluctance[xxv] of most banks to deal with Iran. In particular, Iran’s access to the USD continued to be severely limited. All of which might explain that the signing of the JCPOA had not affected the market price of the USD vs the IQD.

However, it is worth noting that after a stabilization over the last few months, the premium of the market price over the official rate increased in early August from about 1.5% to over 2%. This might be related to the sanctions effect or to the signs of recovery of the local economy from increased consumer spending and the resultant increase in demand for imports. A full recovery in consumer demand for imported products would likely take the premium to a range of 2-4%.

It can be argued, that while Iraq genuinely disapproves of the Iranian sanctions given its own bitter 14 years’ experience with them, yet it stands to benefit from their imposition as they will fast-track a number of positive trends that are already taking place.

Iraq’s new-found ability to self-fund its reconstruction, estimated at about USD 18.8bn by end of 2018[xxvi], will accelerate its economic recovery through a liquidity injection of 14.5% into the non-oil economy once reconstruction projects are underway. In the process making the country extremely attractive for its neighbours’ economies, both as a goods export destination and for re-construction businesses. The opportunity to replace Iranian goods increases the benefit for these exporters. Ultimately, this will cement the USD 30bn pledged for the reconstruction of Iraq at the Kuwait Conference[xxvii] from promises into actual spending that will benefit the economies of the providers as much as Iraq’s economy. The deeper implication is a change in their relationship from that of benefactors into partners which will ensure its sustainability- in the process speeding Iraq’s re-integration in the region and ensure a balanced relationship with its neighbours.

The re-opening of the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border crossing and the Iraq-Jordan border crossings will accelerate the rehabilitation of Anbar (arguably disenfranchised after 2003 and a seat of resentment for the post-2003 political order), and the southern governorates (neglected by both the current and the prior regimes). The resumption of trade-links with their associated economic activities would provide a huge boost to the local economies, which while contributing meaningfully to the healing process, will build upon and magnify the economic revival until it becomes self-sustaining with the boost from reconstruction.

Meanwhile, the relationship with Iran might mature if the Iranians look beyond their frustration at Iraq’s compliance with the sanctions and listen closely the anti-government sentiment within Iran following the December 2017 demonstrations. What is vital here, and something that would increase stability within Iraq, is a complete rethinking the relationship to that of a state to state basis from the current relationship involving sub-state actors. This would subsequently benefit Iran by making another Iraqi security crisis less likely, and ensuring the relationship is based on national sentiment, rather than non state actors.

Disclaimer

Ahmed Tabaqchali’s comments, opinions and analyses are personal views and are intended to be for informational purposes and general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any fund or security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax or investment advice. The information provided in this material is compiled from sources that are believed to be reliable, but no guarantee is made of its correctness, is rendered as at publication date and may change without notice and it is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding Iraq, the region, market or investment.

[i] The code for Turkish Lira is TYR, but TL is used widely. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turkish_lira

[ii] The 12 months ending in March 2018 correspond to the Iranian year 1396. Iranian data are provided using this calendar.

 https://financialtribune.com/articles/economy-business-and-markets/81287/iran-third-biggest-trading-partner-of-iraq-with-16-share

[iii] Al Waleed crossing was freed by Iraqi forces in June 2017. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-syria/iraqi-forces-remove-islamic-state-fighters-from-vicinity-of-u-s-base-in-syria-idUSKBN19807Y

[iv] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/672671468196766598/pdf/106132-v2-main-report-P159972-PUBLIC-KRG-Economic-Reform-Roadmap-post-Decision-Review-05-30-16.pdf

[v] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/turkey-and-the-krg-signs-of-booming-economic-ties-infographic

[vi] Arrived at by diving the value of exports by the year end value of the TL.

[vii] Iraq’s bargaining power is further enhanced if it links this with plans to double Kirkuk’s output over the next few yeaes

 The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) exported an average of 550,000 bbl/d in 2017 until October 2017. After which they ranged between about 240,000-370,000 bb/d for an average of 311,000.

http://auis.edu.krd/iris/sites/default/files/Statehood in KRI through an Economic Lens_ FINAL.pdf pages 6 & 7, page 7 footnote 15.

[viii] http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/industrial-exports-iraq-resume-after-border-reopening

[ix] Although most of Jordan’s exports are currently value-add products. In 2016, Pharmaceutical Products accounted for 16% of total exports, Electrical & Electronic Equipment for 13%; Fertilizers for 12%; plastics for 11%. While Vegetable, Fruits & Nut food preparation accounted for only 2.3%, and Edible Vegetables, certain roots and Tubers accounted for 2.2% for a total under 5%.

[x] http://iraqieconomists.net/en/2017/09/19/uae-iraq-trade-touches-7-billion-2016/

[xi] https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/saudi-iraqi-trade-to-reach-23-billion-saudi-riyals-within-10-years-1.706487

[xii] https://en.mehrnews.com/news/122562/Iran-to-resume-electricity-exports-to-Iraq-within-weeks

[xiii] Table 3, page 79 ““A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

   Figures from the Ministry of Electricity show that available capacity, was 16.0 GW by end of July 2018, which does not include the lost Iranian supply. https://moelc.gov.iq/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=4212

[xiv] This article explains the nature of the relationship and the history of the under-payments https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/the-irgc-may-try-to-divert-iraqs-electricity-payments

[xv] https://theiranproject.com/blog/2018/07/08/iran-cuts-electricity-supplies-to-iraq-over-unpaid-bills/

[xvi] https://theiranproject.com/blog/2018/07/17/govt-spox-iran-not-to-resume-electricity-supplies-to-iraq-in-near-future/

[xvii] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170202-kuwait-considers-export-of-electricity-to-iraq/

[xviii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-07-29/iraq-says-saudis-to-sell-it-power-at-a-fraction-of-iran-s-price

[xix] Page 82 “A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

[xx] http://www.irna.ir/en/News/82906994

[xxi] Page 82 “A New Hope: Iraq Oil’s Way Forward” http://www.bayancenter.org/en/2018/02/1435/

[xxii] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/255111529495871846/pdf/Jobs-in-Iraq-a-primer-on-job-creation-in-the-short-term.pdf

[xxiii] http://www.bbc.com/travel/gallery/20171220-the-iraq-city-that-opens-its-doors

[xxiv] https://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/04/12/207233.html

[xxv] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-banks-kerry-idUSKCN0Y30OJ

[xxvi] A recent report by the author covers this in further detail.http://www.iraq-businessnews.com/2018/06/15/forget-the-donations-stupid-new-dynamics-in-funding-reconstruction/

[xxvii] https://uk.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-iraq-reconstruction/factbox-pledges-made-for-iraqs-reconstruction-in-kuwait-idUKL8N1Q55RY

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.

By Kamal al-Ayash.

As Iraq Sanctions Iran Trade, Saudi Arabia Boosts Border Crossing

Opening the Arar border crossing on Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia could help locals economically. But analysts say it’s also about international influence.

“Work is underway to re-open Arar for commercial purposes before the upcoming Haj season in a manner that benefits both Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, the Saudi ambassador to Iraq. In a televised interview announcing that the border crossing is to be permanently opened, he said that the Iraqi and Saudi sides have agreed on everything required for the reopening of the crossing for commercial purposes.

This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia announced its approval for the reopening of the border crossing, and with every such announcement voices supporting normal relations with Saudi Arabia are heard. Local residents also say the border crossing opening will boost economic recovery in the area.

However, the issue of ownership of the border crossing remains a significant stumbling block: It is located within the borders of the Nukhayb district, approximately 300 kilometres southwest of Ramadi, which is in the Anbar province .

The Nukhayb district was created in 1960 and remained part of Anbar province’s Rutba district until 1978 when it was annexed to Karbala for 14 months. It was returned to the Anbar province in 1979 as a result of a crisis between the local population of the Nukhayb district and Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, a former President of Iraq, after which it became a separate district in 2016, following a vote by Anbar provincial council members.

The Arar crossing point is located on the Iraqi-Saudi border, 97 kilometres southwest of the Nukhayb district, and since 2003 has officially only opened during the pilgrimage season so that Iraqi pilgrims can travel to the holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The border crossing has two routes; the first passes through the Karbala province and the second passes through the Anbar province.

The local government in the Anbar province highlights the success of its security and service operations every pilgrimage season, while at the same time stressing that this is done without financial allocations to the border crossing. It is also a way of confirming its ownership of the Nukhayb district and the Arar border crossing.

Taha Abdul Ghani, a member of the Anbar provincial council, told NIQASH that “no province other than Anbar has the right to administrate the Arar border crossing, as all documents prove that the Nukhayb district and Arar border crossing fall within the administrative borders of the Anbar province. Any other claim is a slander and a violation of Anbar’s rights.”

“Anbar province has administrated the Nukhayb sub district for 15 years. It allocated huge amounts of money to services and projects in the Nukhayb district in support of all sectors, as well as for logistical services to ensure the success of security plans and the travel of pilgrims through the Arar border crossing.”

In addition to its importance for commercial and tourism purposes, the Saudi-Iraqi border crossing is significant for various local and international political parties for political and security reasons. Observers and experts say that any developments related to the Nukhayb district tend to increase tensions and they stress that economic issues are not the only reasons.

“Controlling the Nukhayb district and the Arar border crossing from the Iraqi side has one specific reason,” retired military man, Mohammed Kartan explains. “Anbar wants to maintain the border crossing with its Sunni environment, specifically the Gulf, and Karbala and Najaf want to impose their control and influence to isolate Sunni elements from their support in the Gulf.

“Whoever controls the Jdaidet Arar border crossing and the Nukhayb district controls important transportation routes between Iraq and Syria that were created when the Islamic State group occupied most of the cities of the Anbar province. These routes were created in an attempt to find alternative ways to bring financial and logistical support to Syria without having to pass through extremist-occupied areas.”

The reopening of the border crossing could serve as an important outlet for Iraqi and Saudi trade, but it is a painful economic blow to Iranian trade, which heavily and directly depends on the Iraqi market.

Kareem al-Nouri, a leader of the popular crowd forces, told NIQASH that “if we assume good intentions on the part of Saudi Arabia, the decision to resume business permanently at the Arar border crossing is a good and useful decision which restores relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. However, we believe that the decision is of a political nature and its timing is not appropriate, especially with the US sanctions on Iran.”

“The opening of the border crossing, which is located in a sensitive and important city that is still categorised as a disputed area, could trigger a real crisis that may evolve into a conflict,” al-Nouri said. “Announcing the opening of the border crossing at this time is not a popular decision and it should be reconsidered.”

By John Lee.

A former under-secretary at Iraq’s Ministry of Finance has said that  ministry has said that US sanctions on Iran will impact trade activity between Iraq and Iran and, should they persist, they will damage Iraq’s economy.

Fadhil Nabi told Rudaw:

“America’s sanctions on Iran will have impact on trade exchange and activity between Iraq and Iran as there is sizeable trade between the two countries in terms of oil and gas.”

According to the report, while countries are yet to sever trade ties, the impact is already being felt on Iran’s economy, with the rial rapidly losing value.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

By John Lee.

Iraq will reportedly reduce its visa charges for Iranian pilgrims later this year.

According to the report from Associated Press, the reduction will only apply to pilgrims of the “Arbaeen,” the anniversary of the passage of 40 days after the death of Shiite Imam Hussein, the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

Visas normally cost $40, but it was not reported what the new price will be.

(Source: AP)

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

Will Riyadh-Tehran rivalry kill Iraqi Kurdistan’s investment drive?

Iraqi Kurdistan, facing an acute financial crisis, has a newfound opportunity to attract desperately needed foreign investment from Saudi Arabia, but regional tensions between Tehran and Riyadh could hamper its efforts.

A large Saudi trade delegation led by Sami Bin Abdullah al-Obeidi, chairperson of the Council of Saudi Chambers, and accompanied by the Saudi ambassador to Iraq and the consul general to Erbil, visited the Iraqi Kurdistan Region July 23-25, meeting with business leaders and government officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, to explore economic opportunities in the energy, agricultural, industry and tourism sectors.

Although no agreements were signed, the parties agreed to work toward expanding economic relations, as Saudi Arabia plans to establish a direct trade link from its Arar border crossing into Anbar province and on to the Kurdistan region.

Click here to read more.

By Youssef Ali.

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

President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the nuclear deal and sign the executive order to reimpose sanctions on Iran has had a significant impact on the global oil markets.

This move poses a severe threat to the economies of major oil exporting countries including Iraq, the second largest oil exporter in OPEC after Saudi Arabia and the third in the world after Russia and Saudi Arabia by 4.4 million barrel per day. Many analysts are reflecting on the effects that this conflict has on the economy of Iraq, which heavily relies on oil.

The sanctions mainly target the Iranian energy sector, which supplies Iran with foreign exchange and at the same time represents about 40% of revenues of its budget. The goal of the sanctions is to prevent Iranian oil exports by imposing sanctions on its customers.

Eliminating Iranian oil supplies will cause unrest in the oil markets around the world because it will lead to price surges, hence substantial economic losses on importing countries, which are already fearing a potential recession. That is why the U.S. tried to convince some of OPEC’s members to increase their supplies contrary to the recent deal amongst OPEC and non-OPEC countries to decrease production, and that in order to compensate Iranian supplies and prevent the disruption of the oil market to prevent damage to the global economy.

This move led to massive disputes between the major suppliers and pushed Iran to threat blocking oil exports from the Middle East altogether if it was to be prevented from exporting its own oil to the international market. If Iran follows through with its threat, it would mean massive losses for the Gulf countries, including Iraq whose economy is primarily depended on oil exports.

That said, completely stopping Iranian oil exports would be practically unlikely for the following reasons:

The nature of oil markets which is volatile and is based on trust. If the OPEC members in the Gulf Region, especially Saudi Arabia and UAE decided to replace the sanctioned Iranian oil supplies, the possibility alone that Iran would follow through its threat of closing the Strait of Hormuz would diminish the trust in that market. The supplies which pass through the strait would be considered as unstable, importers would start looking for alternate sources. This would destroy energy markets in the Middle East, meaning massive losses to the economies of all parties involved, including neutral states such as Iraq.

On a global basis, the mentioned encounter will damage the international economy that is fearing a potential recession, because this encounter, if it happens will cause a massive increase in global oil prices, leading to a domino effect that would create a hike in the prices of many goods and services.

This is why it is expected that while the sanctions will be implemented, all parties involved will allow for under-the-table arrangements in order to avoid such mutual destruction by allowing Iran to open an limited channel to export its oil, as it has happened in the past. Prior to signing the nuclear deal, UAE oil brokerage companies and banks played such a role before they were shut down after the recent pull out of the nuclear deal by the U.S. Allowing for such back-channels would mean that the sanctions will have their impact on the Iranian economy by disrupting the traditional oil export routs and limiting its revenue, yet allowing for a backdoor deal that will help the international community avoiding a conflict that could have grave impact on the global economy.

There is a role for Iraq to play in this crisis. The current policy of Iraq in regards to this conflict, in which it is trying to mediate between the parties involved is a wise policy. It is in the interest of nobody to escalate the situation in the Gulf region. On the other hand, Iraq could, given the circumstances,  gain enormous benefits by performing the same role that UAE brokerage companies and banks were playing, which would be a win-win for everyone involved.

In other words, Iraq can empower its private sector to establish companies and banks that facilitate the financial transactions related to the Iranian oil export, which would add important revenues to the economy of Iraq and increase the financial movement in the country; at the same time it would ensure the interests of Iran and decrease the likelihood of an encounter in the Gulf, which would serve the Gulf Arabs well.

Iraq must exploit this opportunity, especially since the Europeans countries along with Russia and China have already expressed their willingness to play this role. This opportunity could also be a significant incentive for Iraq to improve its ailing banking system to be able to implement such operation.

However, this is not possible without  negotiating with the U.S. on this issue in order to avoid being subject of the sanctions. The U.S. has in the past exempted Iraq from the sanctions for dealing with Iran, given its special circumstances. The U.S. also has expressed its readiness this time to allow some exceptions. This could be Iraq’s chance to negotiate an arrangement that serves everyone well, at least for the short-term.

On the long term however, Iraq has to find alternate routes to export its oil in order to avoid the increasingly unstable oil routes of the Arabian Gulf. Viable solutions could be the Iraq-Jordan pipeline that would start in Basra and end in Aqaba. Iraq needs to accelerate building this pipeline. Another option is the rehabilitation of the Iraq-Syria pipeline that begins from Kirkuk and ends in Banias, which, of course, would only be an option if the security in Syria improves.

Iraq is either the core, or constantly caught in the middle of many crisis that are shaking the Gulf region. These reoccurring crisis pose huge obstacles in front of rebuilding and investment. If Iraq wants to survive them, it needs to play a constructive role and aim for stability and profit for all parties involved.

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

Iraqi Minister of Transport Kazem Finjan al-Hamami revealed July 25 that Iran has agreed to participate with Iraq in the construction of a dam on the Shatt al-Arab River — formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — to confront the ongoing water crisis. Both countries hope to achieve bilateral benefits from the project to be established in Abu Flous Port in Abu al-Khaseeb district.

The agreement comes at the heels of the popular protests organized in Basra on July 8 about the lack of drinking water and services. On July 5, Basra’s tribes asked the Iranian government to stop the flow of water into Iraqi territory, which increases the salinity in the Shatt al-Arab River.

Click here to read more.

By John Lee.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, Dr. Musab Sari al-Mudaris [Mussab Serri al-Mudaris] (pictured) has denied reports that he had told Bloomberg about an agreement to buy electricity from Saudi Arabia.

He said the statement from the news agency is incorrect.

Bloomberg had cited Mudaris as saying that Saudi Arabia agreed to build a 3,000-megawatt solar power plant in Saudi Arabia and sell the electricity to Iraq at $21 per megawatt-hour, a quarter of what it paid Iran for the imports.

Iran recently stopped supplying electricity to Iraq due “the accumulation of debts owed by Baghdad“.

(Source: Ministry of Electricity, Bloomberg)

Iraqi Electricity Minister Qassem Al-Fahdawi (pictured) said yesterday that his country has failed to convince Iran to resume supplying Iraq with electricity.

Last Friday, Al-Fahdawi along with an Iraqi delegation arrived in Tehran where they held talks with Iranian officials to resume supplying Iraq with 1,000 megawatts of electricity, which Tehran cut off about two weeks ago due to the accumulation of debts owed by Baghdad.

Al-Fahdawi explained in a statement received by Anadolu News Agency that his ministry “has put [forward] an alternative plan to importing electricity from Iran”.

Iraq has been importing electricity from Iran for many years after their power infrastructure was destroyed by decades of war and blockade.

According to figures released by the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity in August, last year the country produces 15,700 megawatts of electricity, however it needs more than 23,000 megawatts of electricity to meet its population needs.

The power outage caused by the Iranian move contributed to fueling violent protests in the southern Iraq provinces which led to at least five people being killed and 190 wounded after security forces fired on protesters.

(Source: Middle East Monitor)

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.

By Ibrahim Saleh.

Multi-Billion Dollar Budget Needed To Keep Iraq’s Water Flowing

In Baghdad, locals have been fretting about dramatic falls in the level of the Tigris river. The government has a plan. Only problem is, that plan requires billions in funding that Iraq does not have.

The passengers in the small bus all peer out anxiously as the vehicle crosses the Sanak bridge – the name used by locals for the Rashid bridge which spans the Tigris river in the middle of Baghdad. They’re not worried about the bridge though, they’re worried about the water levels.

“It’s actually very low,” one passenger says to another.

“We should expect that,” his travelling companion replies, “they are trying to drain the water – and the life – out of Iraq.”

Salah al-Jibouri is the 47-year old driver of the minibus. The passengers call him Uncle Salah. And he’s been driving this route for years. At the beginning of every Iraqi summer, he always hears these same conversations about the amount of water in the Tigris river. But this time, he says resignedly, it’s more serious and people are really worried.

Possibly with good reason. At the time the bus is crossing the bridge, it had only been 24 hours since the Turkish government announced that they had started filling their huge Ilisu Dam to the north. Critics have been talking about the damage that stopping the flow of water in Turkey will do to Iraq for years – but now the problem is clear for all to see, as the Tigris river levels have fallen away dramatically.

Locals could talk about little else. Some Iraqis posted pictures of residents who had been able to walk across the river, which usually requires a boat or a bridge to get over. They were also upset with their own government, which seemed to be confused as to what exactly was going on.

Turkish authorities quickly moved to calm the situation with the Turkish ambassador to Iraq saying that it would take nearly a  year to fill the Ilisu dam’s reservoir and the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the filling of the dam had been postponed.

The Iraqi minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, said that the two countries had agreed upon a way for Turkey to fill the dam more slowly, and without stopping as much water flowing into Iraq.

But the problem is far from resolved. Baghdad locals used to worry about flooding in the city during the wetter months. But now, floods are the last thing they need fear. Instead it is the dams being built by neighbouring countries – including Turkey, Iran and Syria – as well as climate change, that are reducing the water flow into their city.

Over two-thirds of Iraq’s water comes from tributaries it shares with neighbouring countries.

“After these dams were built, Iraq’s share of water decreased by more than 45 percent,” says Zafer Abdullah, a consultant for Iraq’s ministry of water resources.

Iraq has agreements with its neighbours about water flow and how much water the different nations need to share. But some of the treaties are not being adhered to, with, for example, the Iranian government reporting that it cannot stick to a previous deal because climate change has decreased the amount of water to be shared.

The solution would not be to build more dams, the Iraqi ministry of water resources, has stated. Iraq’s own dams are underutilized and would store billions more cubic litres, if they could.

The Iraqi authorities say they have a strategy to see them through until 2035, that would provide water for things like drinking and agriculture. It takes into account the decreased amount of water due to climate change as well as the potential for neighbouring countries to keep blocking or diverting rivers.

However, as al-Janabi says, for the plan to work, it requires 24 “urgent and essential” points to be resolved, at the cost of up to US$3 billion. And that is extra funding the Iraqi national budget cannot afford right now.

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)