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)

By Alexander Southworth, Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC).

IBBC Long Read: The Station – Iraq’s the first combined workspace in Iraq, providing tech and artistic entrepreneurs with a communal space and resources to develop and expand business projects.

The Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) recently completed a mission to Baghdad, where Christophe Michels, Managing Director and Eng. Rasmi Al-Jabri Deputy Chairman, visited The Station, Iraq’s first combined workspace in Iraq, providing a hub for artistic & tech entrepreneurs to develop and expand business projects.

Located in Baghdad, The Station’s vision is to create a healthy work environment by providing entrepreneurs with experiences to develop and expand their projects. The institution aims to facilitate this entrepreneurial spirit by providing the space, support and resources to help build and develop ideas and implement them on the ground in a society which is heavily weighted towards public sector activity.

While Iraq is a middle-income country, it faces significant challenges more commonly found in low income nations. Such as a dependence on a primary commodity (crude oil), which generates 95 percent of its budget* while only employing 1 percent of the available labour force and a heavily weighted public sector, which accounts for around 60% of employment, with the government providing 40% of jobs.

This is why The Station is such an exciting initiative, it is a boost to a small but growing number of young Iraqis willing to engage and develop the private sector in Iraq. Iraq has one of the most youthful demographics in the world, with nearly half its population being less than 21 years of age.

Young Iraqis, faced either with closed avenues to public sector employment or who do not wish to conform to a status quo which does not reward entrepreneurial spirit, can find at The Station an environment which does just the opposite, facilitating a hub of ideas and resources beneficial to inspiring entrepreneurs.

Inspiration behind the Idea

The founders visited various innovative hubs/co-working spaces around the Middle East and were inspired by the activities and the economic/social impact they were having in those specific communities. They sought to replicate these spaces, but in a way that is relevant to Iraq. The co-founders are entrepreneurs themselves, and they understand the obstacles faced by entrepreneurs and small businesses. Therefore, they decided to create a space with all the facilities they believe are needed to help such an environment thrive. The idea of The Station was not merely to create a physical space but a cultural one.

Haider Hamzoz Media Director at the Station explained that: “Young people in Iraq as a whole aspire to work in the public sector upon graduation, because there have been no viable options other than that. It is not recommended to take huge risks such as investing in a business venture (unless it is a restaurant or barber shop) because there is no track record of such activities in Iraq – at least not in the last two decades. However, start-ups require risk-taking and we want to build a community of risk takers and innovators.”

Funding & Support

The Station was founded by Mujahed al-Waisi, Muhanned Munjed and Ali Tarik. The Station has received funds from The Al-Handhal International Group and is supported by the Iraqi Private Banks League, Earthlink and the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Baghdad.

Future Direction

The Station is working towards starting an incubator program, to empower the ecosystem in Iraq. It also aims to establish and/or partner with venture capitals to fund and invest in startups, businesses and entrepreneurs. The Station also wants to be a driving force in policy advocacy through international agencies and diplomatic entities to empower the Iraqi private sector, and the role of the youth within this sector.

The Station is currently establishing its own Research and Development Centre that will offer a myriad of services, such as mentorship and policy advocacy. Activities will revolve around engaging the youth in discussions and research, not only with the private sector but with the public sector itself, essentially bridging the gap between the government and its citizens, and this is a development that ought to be celebrated because it will empower not only the Iraqi economy but its democratic institution. The Station is seeking to expand to Mosul in the next two years and has plans to develop a Station in the South and on the other side (Al-Karkh) of Baghdad. This hugely positive development

Haider Hamzoz Media Director at the Station says: “With the erosion of ISIS, the youth are in need of a healthy environment more than ever to feed their self-development and we are building a foundation that will allow them to become world-thinkers, innovators and successful role-models for the new generation to come.”

For more information please visit: http://the-station.iq/ or contact info@the-station.iq

*Source: UNIraq  http://www.uniraq.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&layout=item&id=941&Itemid=472&lang=en

(Source: IBBC)

By John Lee.

According to a report from Rudaw, the Kurdistan Region sells thousands of tons of plastic and cardboard waste to Turkish companies who recycle it and sell the products back to Kurdistan.

Over the past two years, the KRG had issued 42 licenses to export 431,000 tons of waste plastic and cardboard.

Read the full report from Rudaw here.

(Source: Rudaw)

By John Lee.

Iraq and Syria are said to be considering the possibility of reopening their border for the first time in several years.

Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported that Syria’s Deputy Prime Minister Walid al-Moallem sent a letter to his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari hoping to increase efforts to reopen the border crossing connectinga the Syrian city of Albukamal and the Iraqi city of Al-Qa’im [Qaim].

(Source: AINA)

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)

New pre-arrival clearance protocols and reduced terminal handling charges for containers in transit, mean that Jordan’s deep-water Aqaba Container Terminal (ACT), located on the Red Sea, is now a realistic alternative maritime gateway for Iraq-bound cargo, APM Terminals said in its press release.

Containers imported into Iraq will no longer have to be trans-loaded onto new trucks as they cross the Jordanian/Iraqi border.

“The Aqaba Container Terminal has been working hard over the years to develop a competitive gateway to Iraq,” says ACT Managing Director Steven Yoogalingam. “This will enhance the already strong Iraqi port system and gives the business communities of both countries a fantastic transportation system to better support economic development in the region.”

Ideally located, the ACT is 550km – or 36 hours by road – from the Iraqi border town of Traibil and 48 hours from Baghdad. This development comes as the volume of Iraqi imports experience rapid growth – 86% last year alone.

The ACT is a joint venture between ADC, the Jordanian Government’s development arm for the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, and APM Terminals, which manages the facility. It is the second–busiest container facility on the Red Sea after Jeddah (Saudi Arabia).

A terminal expansion project completed in 2013 added 460 meters to the existing quay to create a total length of 1 km and increased the annual container throughput capacity to 1.3 million TEUs.

Iraqi imports grew by 86% in 2017 to $36.5 billion – the leading sources being China, Turkey, Iran, South Korea and the United States, with food, medicine and manufactured goods the primary products.

(Source: APM Terminals)

UK International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP has appointed Simon Penney (pictured on right) as Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner (HMTC) for the Middle East.

The announcement was confirmed by Dr Fox on a visit to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he met government and industry representatives to boost trade and promote more than 68 UK projects worth £30 billion to investors.

Simon joins the Department for International Trade (DIT) following a career spent working in the Middle East and Africa, most recently as Head of Wholesale and International Banking at First Gulf Bank. Prior to that he was Middle East & Africa Chief Executive Officer at RBS.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP said:

The addition of Simon to the team is a statement of intent for our Middle East trade ambitions, and another example of the department attracting the very best people from across both private and public life. The knowledge, contacts and business nous he brings will be a boost to all firms looking to do business in the region.

“As the UK develops its first independent trade policy in more than 40 years, the opportunity for British firms to trade with markets like the Middle East has never been greater.

DIT Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo said:

I am delighted to welcome Simon to the Department’s top team in what is another significant appointment transforming our trade and investment business overseas.

“Simon has deep links with industry in the region and a proven track record in leadership, and is well-placed to lead a strong and informed service to UK businesses in-market, as well as to Middle Eastern investors looking to invest in the UK.

On joining the Department, the new HM Trade Commissioner for the Middle East, Simon Penney, said:

Having spent a significant part of my career working in the Middle East, I understand the great opportunities the markets present to British business. There is vast appetite for British goods and services in the region and huge numbers of Middle Eastern investors looking to invest in the UK.

“The UK’s trade relationship with the region is already strong, but its true potential has not yet been tapped. I look forward to getting back on the ground and making the case for UK PLC.

The appointment makes Simon the sixth HM Trade Commissioner to be announced by the Department and follows the appointment of Trade Commissioners for North America, China, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Network, Latin America and South Asia.

Simon will start in the role this summer.

All of the new Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioners (HMTCs) will cooperate closely with HM Ambassadors and High Commissioners, the wider diplomatic network, and other HM Government colleagues based in countries in their region, in a joined-up and coordinated Government effort overseas to promote UK trade and prosperity.

(Source: UK FCO)

Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, President of the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC), visited Baghdad on 2-3 June, accompanied by Managing Director Christophe Michels, as well as Rasmi Al Jabri, Deputy Chairman and Iraq Representative to meet with numerous politicians and IBBC member representatives.

Jonathan Wilks CMG, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Iraq joined the IBBC team for several high profile meetings.

The IBBC management first attended a religious tolerance seminar and Iftar dinner on 2 June organised by the AMAR Foundation in Baghdad, where numerous representatives of different religious groups in Iraq were present, as well as notable academics, journalists and artists. The dinner was preceded by a meeting with the Chaldeen Patriarch.

Meetings were held on 3 June with H.E. Mr Kadhim Finjan, Iraqi Minister of Transport together with  IBBC Member representatives from Serco, G4S, Al Burhan Group and Menzies Aviation at Adnan Place in Baghdad, where constructive talks were held on further cooperation in the civil aviation industry.

Later meetings were also held with Dr Mehdi Al Alak, Secretary General of the Council of Ministers and Dr AbdulKariem Al Faisal, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee at the Council of Ministers in Baghdad on behalf of IBBC members.

The IBBC team also met Dr Barham Salih, former Prime Minister of the KRG and former Deputy Prime Minister of the Government of Iraq and founder and leader of the Coalition for Democracy and Justice. Dr Barham Salih is a long-time friend and associate of the Iraq Britain Business Council and will be attending the IBBC Weekend Retreat at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park from 6-8 July.

In the late afternoon of 3 June IBBC hosted a meeting for its members at the Babylon hotel. The meeting was joined by Dr Sami Al Araji, Chairman of the National Investment Commission, Professor Sabbah Mushatat, Advisor to the Prime Minister and Eng. Dara Rasheed, Deputy Minister for Housing, Construction & Public Municipalities and Deputy Head of Refaato (Reconstruction fund for areas affected by terrorism https://www.refaato.iq/en/) .

IBBC also visited The Station in Baghdad during their visit, which is the first combined workspace in Iraq, providing tech and artistic entrepreneurs with a communal space and resources to develop and expand business projects. This exciting initiative is a boost to a small but growing number of young Iraqis willing to engage and develop the private sector in Iraq. The building itself is a landmark of modern architecture in the heart of Baghdad. For more information please visit: http://the-station.iq/.

(Source: IBBC)

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

Two pro-Iranian militias active in Iraq and Syria declared that possible US sanctions targeting them would be ineffective and claimed that such sanctions would actually strengthen their presence and expansion in the Middle East.

The US House of Representatives on May 24 passed sanctions against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba as an amendment to annual defense legislation. The bill called for sanctions against “persons that are officials, agents, affiliates of or owned and controlled by” the two groups.

Laith al-Azari, a member of Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s political bureau, said on May 30, “Including Asaib Ahl al-Haq, along with some other Iraqi armed factions, on the terrorist list will increase our own ability to confront terrorism and confront US plans in Iraq.”

He did not explain how sanctions could lead to this result, but sees the action as an effort to thwart the pro-Iranian axis of resistance, which includes Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and confront Islamist movements. The sanctions vote followed US President Donald Trump’s May 8 announcement withdrawing the United States from the Iranian nuclear deal, ostensibly in order to reach a better deal that would limit Iran’s military power in the region.

In a May 30 interview with Rudaw, Mohammad Mohi, spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, played down the importance of possible US sanctions, stating, “The US decision is not new as far as Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba is concerned. This is not a new issue, but one that has been tackled on an annual basis.” Nujaba leader Akram al-Kaabi was sanctioned in 2008 by the Treasury Department, which designated him an individual “fueling violence” in Iraq.

Mohi linked the House vote to a decision by the Iraqi parliament three months ago obligating the Iraqi government to schedule the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, measures supported by the two groups targeted for sanctions. While condemning foreign interference in Iraqi affairs, including the US and Turkish military presence, Mohi praised the Iranian presence, stating, “Without Iranian support, Iraq would not have defeated the Islamic State [IS]. Had it not been for Iran’s support, Erbil would have fallen [to IS] along with Baghdad and other Iraqi cities. This is why Iran’s intervention was in the interest of the Iraqi people, and it came at a time when other countries were idly watching Iraq head toward an unknown fate.”

The House’s sanctions vote followed Iraq’s May 12 legislative elections, in which the political organizations of the pro-Iranian militias emerged as the second largest coalition, meaning they might have a shot at forming the new government. Asaib Ahl al-Haq looks like it will occupy at least 14 of the 47 seats won by the Al-Fateh Alliance, consisting of pro-Iran factions and headed by Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization. Al-Fateh came in second, behind the Sairoon Alliance, headed by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which won 56 seats. There are 328 seats in the Council of Representatives.

Despite the Sairoon Alliance’s lead, its position could be undermined by independent candidates. It is being reported that a number of independents will be joining the Al-Fataeh Alliance. So far, only one such candidate for Shabak, Qusay Abbas, has joined Al-Fateh after winning a seat.

Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, expects his movement to end up with at least 15 seats once the official results are announced, following the resolution of disputes over balloting irregularities. The Badr Organization is also thinking that it will be allotted additional seats after the results are in. Meanwhile, the State of Law Coalition, another ally of Iran, won 26 seats, and is fully prepared to forge an alliance with Al-Fateh given their common political agendas.

All this means that should Al-Fateh’s natural allies join it, it would beat out the Sairoon Alliance and be in a position to form a government consisting mostly of pro-Iranian factions. If this scenario transpires, the United States could find itself in the very awkward situation of having to deal with a government it is sanctioning, should the sanctions ultimately be adopted. Would the United States actually sever ties with the Iraqi government, a key partner since 2003, or, finding that scenario unpalatable, simply decide to waive or put off new sanctions?

Another scenario that might be even more difficult for the United States would see Sairoon and Al-Fateh coming together around their shared goal of US forces withdrawing from the country and curbing US influence in Iraq and the region. Before that could happen, however, big differences between the two alliances would have to be overcome. Al-Fateh opposes the United States in favor of expanding Tehran’s influence in Iraq and the region, while Sairoon wants an Iraq independent of Iran, free to manage its own internal affairs and regional positions.

Of note, Israeli-Russian understandings, with US buy-in, are being concluded to keep pro-Iranian militias away from the southern border of Syria, which would, of course, undermine the Iranian role in Syria. Regardless, in terms of US interests in Iraq, it appears the United States might ultimately find itself in the dilemma of having to choose between the lesser of evils.

The spokesman for Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Hashim al-Moussawi, believes Washington launched a war on the resistance axis when it reneged on the Iranian nuclear deal and then prepared to impose economic sanctions on Hezbollah supporters. “This is an expected reaction to the losses suffered by the US by the Islamic resistance factions,” he said. “The elections in Lebanon and Iraq and the victory of the resistance [against IS in Iraq] showed the US the high level of threat it is facing.”

Moussawi touts the showing by the Al-Fateh Alliance as a victory for the Iranian axis. “This is why it [the US] is seeking to plunge Iraq into the spiral of permanent chaos,” he said. “The entry of the resistance into political circles will embarrass Washington, which is politically seeking to bypass the axis of resistance.”

Swiss-Swedish group ABB has won orders from the Ministry of Electricity in Iraq to deliver five fixed and 15 mobile 132-kilovolt substations that will help strengthen the power grid and provide electricity in central Iraq.

The government of Iraq is rebuilding the country and investing in its grid as part of its ambitious plan to develop its power infrastructure to meet electricity needs. The substation projects are supported by Swedish government financing.

As part of the projects ABB will also deliver key products like gas- and air-insulated switchgear, power transformers and  capacitor banks to improve power quality and advanced IEC 61850-based  automation, protection and telecommunication systems for control and monitoring of substation assets. The 15 mobile substations will enable fast electrification in some of the mostneedy areas.

Patrick Fragman, head of ABB’s Grid Integration business, a part of the company’s Power Grids division, said:

The substations will help to improve the electricity supply by expanding capacity and strengthening Iraq’s power infrastructure. These projects add to our extensive installed base in the region and support our focus on growing markets, reinforcing ABB’s position as a partner of choice in enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.

”ABB is the world’s leading supplier of air-insulated, gas-insulated and hybrid substations with voltage levels up to 1,100 kV. These substations enable the efficient and reliable transmission and distribution of electricity with minimum environmental impact, serving utility, industry and commercial customers as well as sectors like railways, urban transportation and renewables.

(Source: ABB)