The Khosravi border crossing between Iran and Iraq reopened on Friday, more than six years after a terrorist attack led to its closure.

In a ceremony on Friday, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli and his Iraqi counterpart Yassin Al Yasiri reopened the Khosravi border crossing.

The border crossing had been closed in 2013 in the wake of a deadly terrorist attack on Shiite pilgrims.

Khosravi border crossing allows the Iranian pilgrims to take the shortest route from the common border to Iraq’s city of Karbala, where the holy shrine of Imam Hussein (PBUH) is located.

The interior ministers of Iran and Iraq had signed an agreement to reopen the border crossing and remove visa restrictions for Iranian Arbaeen pilgrims in August.

Iran and Iraq have also agreed to raise the level of services and facilities for the pilgrims and enhance border security during the Arbaeen season, which will culminate in a large gathering in Karbala on October 19.

Arbaeen, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, comes 40 days after Ashura, the martyrdom anniversary of the third Shiite Imam.

Each year, a huge crowd of Shiites flock to Karbala to perform mourning rites in commemoration of Imam Hussein (PBUH) and his companions.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

The National Investment Commission (NIC) has published details of a new round of solar energy projects:

The Ministry of Electricity is please to invite local, regional and international Independent Power Producers (IPP) to submit Expressions of interest (EOI) to embark into a proposed reverse auctioning round for SEVEN (7) Green field solar PV IPP projects (each a “project”) with a potential combined capacity of 755MWp.

A project involves the design, finance, construction operation and maintenance of a utility scale solar power project to the Ministry on a Build, Own and Operate (BOO) basis. A dedicated Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) shall be established to undertake the construction and operation of each project.

The Ministry, in its commercial capacity as a grid operator, will connect the SPV to the Iraqi transmission grid under a Transmission Connection Contract (TCC) and, in its capacity as owner of the land, will lease the land to the SPV under a Land Lease Contract (LLC). Also, the Ministry will purchase produced electricity from the SPV under the terms of the power purchase Contract (PPC).

The Ministry expects these project(s) to employ around 1300 people in the Republic of Iraq and supply more than 250,000 households with critically needed electricity supply.

The following projects are available :

  • Sawa-1 Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 30 MWp to be located in Muthana Province,
  • Sawa-2 Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 50 MWp to be located in Muthana Province,
  • Khidhir Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 50 MWp to be located in Muthana Province,
  • Iskanariya Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 225 MWp to be located in Babil Province,
  • Jissan Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 50 MWp to be located in Wassit Province,
  • Karbala Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 300 MWp to be located in Karbala Province,
  • Al-Diwania Solar PV IPP with a capacity of 50 MWp to be located in Diwania  Province,

The above project(s) may, at the Ministry’s discretion, be tendered on a standalone basis or grouped. For the proposed tender, the Ministry will conduct a transparent, fair and competitive reverse auctioning process to select a developer or a consortium for a single or a group of project(s).

Parties interested in participating (the “respondent”) in the process must fulfill the following pre- requisites for short listing:

  • Successful, proven and verifiable technical and financial capability and experience of no less than 10 years in developing renewable energy IPP Project(s) of no capacity less than 50 MW on an individual and not collective project basis, particularly utility scale solar PV projects.
  • An average annual turnover of more than US$ 10 Million for the last three years solely from revenues obtained via renewable energy projects development and operatorship, preferable majorly from solar PV projects.
  • Previously awarded projects should have been tendered according to the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model on similar auctions regionally or globally.
  • The respondent must have registered and licensed official regional and international offices.
  • The respondent must demonstrate previous initiative towards social responsibility and willingness to contribute to capacity building, to integrate local content, and to support the nascent renewable energy manufacturing and service sectors in the republic of Iraq.
  • The respondent must have never been barred by the Government of the Republic of Iraq, or any entity controlled or regulated by them, from participating in any project or conducting work of any form in the Republic of Iraq, including the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Also this applies to any other government, or any entity controlled or regulated by any other government.

Respondents that fulfill the requirements above shall express their interest to participate in the tender process by 29 April.2019 and the finnnal time to receive the (IPP) documentation 60 days from the announced date.

The number call of is MOE- HQ5/ 2019 An package (the “package”) must be sent in electronic copy format (a single PDF file) from an official business email address to 32_contracts@moelc.gov.iq

The requirements set herein;

  • Name of the respondent
  • Name and contact details (Postal address, telephone number, and email address) for the appropriate point of contact (Point of Contact) to whom future correspondence may be sent; and
  • Where the respondent is considering potential consortium partners, an indication of such intention and details of potential consortium partners (to the extent it is known).

The Ministry will not consider any proposals or packages submitted by mail, in person, or via liaison.

The following submission of the EOI, and after passing this stage this stage the respondent will bay the documentation (RFQ). The RFQ will include further information, including a description of the project(s), an outline of the tender process and eligibility criteria for pre- qualification.

The announcement shall not constitute in any way a commitment by the Ministry to proceed with the next stage, hold the proposed reverse auction, announce the tender, award any project or comply with the information provided herein. The Ministry retains the right to amend the scopes of the project(s), modify, extend, cancel or suspend the project(s), at any time for any reason without clarification or any liabilities for the Ministry or any other entity of the Government of the republic of Iraq.

This announcement shall be considered a complementary and integral part of the Project(s) Documentation.

(Source: NIC)

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

Iraq to expand Karbala shrine for growing number of pilgrims

The Iraqi city of Karbala is planning a major expansion of a key religious site to cope with a growing number of pilgrims.

More than 30 million people visit the shrines of Imam Hussein and Abbas each year.

Al Jazeera‘s Dorsa Jabbari reports from Karbala:

As part of the continues support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to the University of Karbala, a workshop has been conducted for the period 1 to 5 April on the e-learning modules, gathering twenty senior officials and academics from Karbala University, as part of the technical support provided by the Public Sector Modernization (IPSM) Programme to the e-learning units of Karbala University.

UNDP through IPSM Programme has introduced the e-learning approach to two institutions in Iraq; University of Karbala, and National Centre for Management Development and Information Technology (NCMDIT) within the Ministry of Planning (MoP).

DG of the Continuing Learning Center, Prof. Ahmed Hadi Al Yasari said:

“This workshop is very important as it is conducted in conjunction with the launching of the e-learning development plan of Karbala university for the years 2019-2022. The implementation of this plan requires vital efforts and cooperation between the two parties to make Karbala University an advanced university in e-learning, thus improving the quality of education”.

As a result, a team of management and situation analytics specialized in e-Learning has been established in Karbala university, the team will work to explore the best options for transferring into the e-Learning system, depending on international practices provided during the workshop and presentations of global experiences including some of the well-known Egyptian and British universities.

(Source: UNDP)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met a group of Iraqi tribal leaders from south of the country in the holy city of Karbala.

During the last leg of his meetings with Iraqi officials, elites and representatives of Iraqi society from various ethnicities and regions, Zarif sat for talks with the tribal leaders and clans’ representatives of southern Iraq in the consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the holy city of Karbala.

During the cordial meeting on Wednesday, some of Iraqi tribal leaders and representatives expressed their views and ideas about the strong bonds between the two nations of Iran and Iraq, Foreign Ministry website reported.

For his part, Iran’s top diplomat referred to the close relations between the two nations over the past centuries and pointed out that nothing, even the imposed war by the former dictator of Iraq on Iran, could not separate the two nations.

“The love of the third Shiite Imam, Hussein ibn Ali (AS) has served as a bond connecting us together,” he said, adding that Arbaeen, the anniversary of 40th day after the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) is a beautiful picture of companionship, self-sacrifice, hospitality and sympathy between the peoples of Iran and Iraq.

He also thanked Iraqi tribes for their warm hospitality to the Iranian pilgrims flocking to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala each year to commemorate Arbaeen.

Zarif then underlined that Iran and Iraq are now involved in the construction process and added the two sides should put their focus on improving the living conditions of their people through overcoming the current obstacles and preparing the ground for further economic cooperation.

“Building on the two sides’ capacities, we can increase our annual trade volume by 20 billion dollars and if the ground is prepared, the Islamic Republic is ready to proudly share its achievements in energy, engineering, agriculture and trade areas with the Iraqis,” he concluded.

Iranian foreign minister arrived in Iraq on Sunday afternoon and held separate meetings with various Iraqis officials from the central government in Baghdad to Kurdistan semi-autonomous region.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

UNDP is helping to launch the Private Sector Development Strategy in Karbala

The Governorate of Karbala in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) organized a conference to roll out the Holly Karbala Private Sector Development Strategy (2018-2030) in Karbala province.

The Holly Karbala Private Sector Development Strategy (2018-2030) (HKPSDS) will support the diversification of the economy as one of the most important keys for the economic growth in Karbala. This new strategy will help create jobs and promote growth in the local economy.

UNDP, and the Governorate of Karbala, Provincial Council, Holy Shrines, private sector and academia, have been developing the HKPSDS for the province. Representatives of private sector companies, associations, academics, Directors of public departments, media and other UN agencies as well as officials from the local authority attended the conference.

The Governor of Karbala, Mr. Aqeel Al-Turaihi, said in his speech during the conference:

“The Private Sector Development Strategy will be a center of excellence of the private sector development among the local governorates, and Holy Karbala Government will provide full support to the implementation of this strategy”.

UNDP Deputy Country Director Mr. Gerardo Noto said:

The implementation of this strategy will contribute significantly to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). In particular SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), leading to achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation.

“It will also help to achieve SDG 17 (Partnerships for Goal) to encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships”.

The HKPSDS is an adaptation to the local context of the PSDS Iraq 2014 – 2030. It is designed to address the challenges identified and to achieve the objectives set on the national level in the PSDS Iraq (2014-2030) within Karbala Province and is intended to utilize the resources and opportunities available in the province, to achieve the overarching development objectives of revitalizing and strengthening the local private sector and improve the business environment, to contribute to local economic growth, sustainable development and job creation.

As the first one of its kind to be implemented in the local governorates of Iraq, The PSDS envisages achieving, by 2030, the vision of “Developing a viable, competitive, local private sector, led by the business community that contributes to the local economy, job creation and sustainable local development in partnership between the Local Government of Karbala Governorate and the local private sector.

(Source: UNDP)

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)

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 Abbas Sarhan.

The Iranian banking system was seen as an attractive alternative to Iraq’s shaky financial institutions. But a recent, drastic devaluation in the Iranian rial means Iraqi money is stuck over the border.

Depositing money in Iranian banks has been popular in Iraq since around 2012, and even more so since 2014, and the security crisis caused by the extremist group known as the Islamic State.

In the southern city of Karbala, it was a popular move for people who had sold property, especially after the decline of prices in the Iraqi real estate market since June 2014 and the beginning of the security crisis.

But in fact, small and mid-sized Iraqi investors have been putting money into Iranian banks since 2012, when the Iranian authorities significantly increased the interest rate on savings in a bid to get more currency flowing into their sanctioned nation.

Iraqi investors were encouraged to deposit cash in Iran. Iraqis could change their money into Iranian rials, then deposit them with bank officers based in Karbala or Najaf, without ever having to leave home.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis took up the offer, says Mohammed Abbas, one of the locals who also did so: He put US$500,000 in Iranian banks.

“It was too tempting for anyone with a small or medium sized deposit,” he explains. “Iraqis were afraid to invest their money in Iraq and there are really not many other opportunities for investment.” Abbas says that in the first three years he made good money off his deposits and he used the rials on his frequent trips to Iran.

However the situation has since deteriorated badly. The Iranian rial has recently lost a lot of value and even those Iraqis who had done well with the interest rates on their money, saw that extra cash wiped out. Now, Abbas says, Iraqi money is trapped in Iran. Depositors cannot withdraw their deposits for fear of wiping out half the value so they leave it there in the hope that the Iranian authorities may be able to revalue their own currency.

However the Iranian authorities appear to only have been able to take limited steps. In April this year, Iranians arrested as many as 90 foreign exchange traders, accusing them of raising the price of foreign currencies against the rial, and suspended activities in ten foreign exchange bureaus. They also tried to set the exchange rate more favourably.

However these measures have not worked and thousands of Iraqis who deposited savings over the border remain frustrated. Anybody who does want to withdraw their cash needs to change the rial for dollars first. Iraqis must change their money on the black market.

Iranian banks only exchange dollars in specific situations and then only to Iranians. Even though the Iranian authorities have tried to set the exchange rate against the US dollar there, the black market exchange rate puts the dollar at significantly higher rates. Which still leaves Iraqi depositors in a bad way.

Iraqi economist Abdul-Hussein al-Rumi says there’s not much anyone can really do. That is the risk that Iraqi investors were taking and Iran’s economy and currency is unlikely to be able to withstand the new round of US sanctions.

Instead of taking their money out of Iran, al-Rumi suggests withdrawing the deposits, buying Iranian goods over the border and then selling them on the Iraqi market to try and reduce their losses and to get out of the Iranian banking system.

By John Lee.

The National Investment Commission (NIC) has announced six new investment opportunities in Iraq:

  1. New Housing Compounds, Ministry of Water Resources
  2. Lime plant in Karbala, Iraqi Cement State Company
  3. Caustic/chlorine plant in Khor al-Zubair, State Company for Petrochemical Industries
  4. Industrial and medical gases, Al-Zawraa State Company
  5. Chlorine plant in Muthanna, General Company for Mining Industries
  6. Paper sack production, Iraqi Cement State Company

(Source: National Investment Commission)

(Picture: Business opportunity word cloud, from ibreakstock/Shutterstock)