By John Lee.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has announced the reopening of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah airports to international flights.

In a statement, he said he signed the decree “following the response of the local authorities in the Kurdistan region to restore the federal authority to the two airports in accordance with the constitution, in order to facilitate the travel of citizens through Erbil and Sulaimaniyah international airports, The Kurdistan Regional Airports will be under the command and control of the Federal Ministry of Interior.

Dr. Haider Al-Abadi has said that the system of verification (Paysys) for the airports of the province and its frontier will be linked to the main system in Baghdad, as it is the case in other Iraqi ports and linking the passports and nationality departments and employees at the airports of Erbil and Sulaimaniyah in the Federal Ministry of Interior, according to the law.

He added that a higher committee will be set up to oversee the management of airports in the region and its borders crossings, ensuring compliance with federal standards, including representatives of all concerned authorities in the center and the region and report to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces or authorized person.

(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)

UK-based WRA and Associates has announced the signing of a contract with the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) for a new $350-million facility with 3-4 berths at the port of Umm Qasr, in Basra province.

Built in partnership with local company Bur Al-Aman (BAM), the new development will include warehousing and all other operations facilities, and will have an operating value of approximately $1.5 billion over the 38-year contract.

The three berths will be built in two phases, incorporating three stages; each stage is the construction of a berth with a 200-m long sea interface with storage yards attached to it.

Preparation of the berths and storage yards with the equipment and machinery specified and the technical presentation according to the specifications, is to be developed.

With the infrastructure in position, Umm Qasr Port is in a good competitive position to develop deep-drafted dry-bulk, liquid-bulk and container terminals through private sector participation, and provide better facilities and services.

Project Director Launce Morgan told Iraq Business News:

“As one of the biggest non-oil projects in Iraq, this ia a major breakthrough for a British company. We are delighted to work with Bur al-Aman and we look forward to the successful completion of this important project.”

Design works are to start immediately, and the project will be run on a Finance, Build, Own and Operate basis.

A Kurdistan 24 press quoted Talar Faiq, the Director-General of Erbil International Airport (EIA) as saying that the KRG could suspend domestic flights between the Kurdistan Region’s airports and the rest of Iraq due to financial issues and Baghdad’s international flight ban.

“Since the Iraqi government’s ban went into effect late September 2017, Iraqi Airways has not paid for its landings at the EIA [for flights originating from Baghdad and other Iraqi airports],” Faiq said.  “Baghdad owes the EIA an amount of 37 million USD for landing at the airport,” the Director-General added.

The EIA had previously warned that Baghdad’s ongoing embargo on the airports in the Region might lead to the suspension of domestic flights, as the expenditure at the local airports would be higher than the revenues generated.

It would be difficult to handle its $2.3 million monthly expenses which include employee salaries, allowances, fuel, utilities, electricity, cleaning, and maintenance due to decreased income following the international flight ban,” the EIA said in a statement.  “The flight ban also forces the EIA to suspend contracts with French and German companies worth USD 35 million [to renovate and expand the airport],” the statement added.

(Source: GardaWorld)

By John Lee.

Daily Sabah reports that Iraq has extended its ban on international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan by three months.

The Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) reportedly told Erbil International Airport (EIA) that the ban on international flights to and from Erbil and Sulaymaniyah airports has been extended to the end of May.

(Source: Daily Sabah)

By John Lee.

A plan to export Iraqi crude oil by truck to Iran has reportedly been postponed due to security concerns.

Under the oil-swap agreement, Iraq was to export 60,000 bpd of crude oil by truck from Kirkuk to Iran’s Kermanshah refinery (pictured), and ship back refined Iranian oil for southern Iraq.

Hamid Hosseini, the Iranian secretary-general of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce, said Iran does not have X-ray machines to scan the trucks coming from Iraq, adding that Iran is in talks with Iraq to use their X-ray facilities.

(Sources: Xinhua, Rudaw)

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 Saleem al-Wazzan.

As Saudis Prepare To Open Basra Consulate, Iran Opens Border To Iraqis

Iraqis can now visit a special visa-free zone in neighbouring Iran, over the border from Basra. Some locals see the open border as a cynical economic and political move that helps Iran, but not Iraq.

An Iraqi passport is one of the most difficult in the world. Only a handful of countries will allow Iraqis to travel there without applying for a visa a long time in advance. But now, Iraq’s next-door neighbour, Iran, has opened some of the areas closest to Basra to Iraqis, that they may access without a visa.

The decision has been greeted with both enthusiasm and cynicism in Iraq. Locals in southern Iraq have often made pilgrimages into Iran for religious and medical reasons and they welcome the decision, even though it only applies to the areas of Khorramshahr and Abadan, which lie directly on the border. Meanwhile local businessmen say it’s a commercial decision that will mainly benefit Iran.

The decision has been made and now Iran is only waiting for the Iraqi government’s go-ahead, Ahmed Sayhaboush, head of mission at the Iranian consulate in Basra, said. He explained that the decision was made in the interests of encouraging friendly relations between the two countries.

Passports will still be stamped at the border, the head of communications at the Iranian consulate, Mohammed Ismail, explained. Iraqis will be able to stay in the visa-free border areas for up to a month and during that time, they can obtain a visa to travel further into Iran if they wish. There will be special crossing points in Khorramshahr and Abadan. Many Iraqis on religious pilgrimage like to go to the shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad, for example, but this is well out of the visa-free area.

The border authorities have decided to limit the entry times of Iraqis wishing to cross into the visa-free zones to between 6am and 5pm daily, Ali Yousef, a spokesperson for the Basra council, explained further.

“The Iranian move will increase the number of people moving between the two countries and this will benefit both nations” Jabbar al-Saedi, the head of the security committee on Basra’s provincial council, said. “We have however stressed the need to follow up on security controls to prevent any illegals crossing the border.”

One local from Basra, Mohammed Marhoun, believes that the visa-free zones will be good for business. He says he has already purchased a house and an apartment in Khorramshahr and says the process was relatively uncomplicated, compared to the bureaucracy he faced in Iraq. The number of visitors from Iraq into Iran means that there is more construction in border areas to accommodate visitors. The only problem, Marhoun said, was that one did have to have an Iranian name on the deed.

And he is not the only one utilising this opportunity, Marhoun points out. “Members of the provincial council and MPs from Basra have also invested in real estate in the visa-free zones,” he noted. “But they don’t want anybody to know about these investments, which are now being managed by Iranians.”

While businesspeople like Marhoun and investors in real estate might be pleased, there are some observers who are not so enthusiastic. They believe that the move will only benefit Iran in the long run.

It’s just another way to deplete Iraq’s currency reserves and to encourage more consumerism among Iraqis, says Nabil Jaafar Abdul Redha, a professor of economics in Basra. “Even if Iraq now allows Iranians to enter Iraqi cities without a visa nothing will change because there are no local products to be sold to them,” Abdul Redha argues. “So, the Iraqi economy is the loser in this process.”

“Iraqis might benefit from being able to go to Khorramshahr or Abadan and buying Iranian goods at slightly lower prices,” he concedes. “But overall, this does not benefit Iraq.” The main problem is that Iraq doesn’t produce much other than oil – it remains what is known as a rentier economy, one that is basically dependent on exporting oil to fuel its economy. Most manufactured goods are imported, in exchange for the money the oil raises.

“Our economy is not as diversified as Iran’s,” Abdul Redha tells NIQASH. “So, any commercial exchange with our neighbours – that includes Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – tends to be one sided.”

There has been an influx of Iranians into Iraq in recent years for religious reasons. But that doesn’t outweigh the trade balance, he adds.

“The number of Iraqis entering Iran every day numbers between 2,000 and 3,000,” posits Abdel-Saheb Saleh, deputy head of an association for Basra’s businesses. “If we estimate that each of them will spend between US$100 and US$500 over there, that’s a good income for Iran.”

Saleh thinks the visa-free areas could be a positive for another reason. Iraq has been isolated for a long time due to security and political issues, Saleh says. This could be seen as a positive message to other regional governments who block the entry of Iraqis. “For example, a visa to visit Kuwait costs US$1,800 on the black market,” he complains.

Meanwhile local man, Ahmad Fadel, a civil society activist who recently visited what will be the visa-free zone, isn’t that impressed. For one thing, he says, the Iranian border guards treat the Iraqis crossing into their country badly. For another, there’s not much in Khorramshahr or Abadan that could really attract tourists. “The cities have poor infrastructure,” he notes.

And Fadel has another theory as to the reason behind the visa-free zones. He believes it may also be the Iranian reaction to Iraq’s new détente with Saudi Arabia, a country the Iranians tend to see as a geo-political rival. Saudi Arabia is about to reopen its consulate in new premises in Basra; it closed the original one way back in 1990.

By John Lee.

MENAFN reports that 540 Jordanian goods have been officially exempted from customs duties of Iraq.

Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply, Yarub Al-Qudah (pictured) said the decision aims to increase Jordanian exports to the Iraqi market, promoting economic cooperation between the two countries.

He added that Jordanian trucks will be allowed to enter Iraq, and vice versa.

(Source: MENAFN)

By John Lee.

A new section of Erbil’s largest road was reportedly opened on Monday.

The five-kilometer stretch of the “120 Meter Road” will alleviate heavy traffic on the Erbil-Pirmam and Erbil-Koya roads, according to a report from Rudaw.

The Hemn Group has pledged to finish the next phase of the project near the Kirkuk road and another segment serving the Kirkuk-Mosul road by the end of the year, witht the entire road expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

More here from Rudaw.

(Source: Rudaw)

By John Lee.

Jordan’s Minister of Municipalities, Walid Al-Masri, and Minister of Industry and Trade, Yarub Al-Qudah, have met representatives of the chambers of industry and commerce and members of the Jordan Truck Owners and Custom Clearance Associations to discuss arrangements for the entry of Jordanian trucks to Iraq.

According to a report from Petra, they agreed to organise the crossing of Jordanian trucks to Iraq with the concerned Jordanian and Iraqi authorities.

(Source: Petra)

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation in the Kurdistan Region reiterated that the Ministry has not received any formal approval from Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi to lift the ban on international flights from the airports in the region.

Asked whether Baghdad was trying to delay resolving the issue with Erbil, Omed Mohammed said that he has no knowledge why the Federal government has not lifted the ban on the airports after the region had shown commitment to all of the conditions introduced by Iraq.

According to the Kurdish official, the Kurdish Regional Government has already accepted all of the conditions made by the Federal government, but there was no sign from Baghdad’s side to end the punitive measures imposed on the region.

(Source: GardaWorld)