By Padraig O’Hannelly.

Our friend and former contributor Robert Tollast has been touring Iraq’s religious and archeological sites.

Writing in Middle East Eye, he says:

“Iraq still gives visitors a sense of having a private viewing of some of the world’s wonders, such as the 4,000-year-old ruins of Babylon, and the awe-inspiring Holy Shrines of Hussein and Ali with their intricate mirrored ceilings and breathtaking tile work.”

His full article can be read here.

(Picture Credit: Middle East Eye / Charlotte Mayhew)

The Iraq Energy Institute has just published a new report by Robert Tollast, Yesar Al-Maleki and Harry Istepanian on reform of public financial management in Iraq:

Iraq’s first draft budget for 2019 shows an overall increase in spending of 23% compared to 2018. Oil revenues still dominate sources of revenue, projected at 89% of government finances.

The Iraqi government, with help from international creditors, has been aiming to increase non-oil sources of income. In 2019 however, non-oil income reduces by IQD 2.65 tr ($ 2.24 bn), or a decline of 18%.

Spending on energy, security and defense as well as social services remains a priority ahead of other sectors. Notably, the state’s planned spending on capital projects will grow by 32% and liberated provinces are included again in planned financial allocations after years of war, an important progression on 2018.

However, Iraq’s greatest challenge of reducing its operational expenditure is still unresolved as it expands by 21% in 2019 and dominates 75% of total expenditure. This will of course leave the country extremely vulnerable to another fall in oil prices.

Please click here to download the full report.

(Source: IEI)

 

By Robert Tollast.

Robert Tollast is a consultant at Noorbridge, a Helsinki based consultancy with staff in London and Nasiriyah, Iraq. He has written extensively on security, politics and economic issues in Iraq for various publications, and is currently researching a modern history of Iraq with support from The Middle East Forum. email: bobtollast@gmail.com twitter: @roberttollast

Private Security Companies in Iraq: Think Again. An interview with Haider Abadi of the Al Sajer Security Company.

What comes to mind when you imagine private security firms in Iraq? At worst you might recall the leaked footage (from 2005) of Blackwater personnel firing wildly at civilian cars during the coalition occupation. We then heard of 2007’s infamous Nisoor square massacre, and Blackwater’s reputation hit rock bottom.

Sensationalist books such as License to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror or Hollywood portrayals from The Green Zone and The Hurt Locker have not helped an industry widely perceived as mercenary. Perhaps you are a soldier reading this who served in Iraq and remember nothing but swagger, expensive sunglasses, caps and chinos and the knowledge that these men were making far more money than you.

These days the industry in Iraq is highly regulated, and after coming under significant pressure from the Iraqi government in 2012 it has reformed considerably. 2008 saw the advent of the Montreux document, an international agreement that now has 49 participating states, initiated by groups such as the Red Cross and the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.

It would be hard to argue that from a tactical, strategic, ethical, reputational or business perspective, these regulations do not make sense. A community that is alienated by bad behaviour is more likely to be hostile, and incidents are often broadcast on the global stage in minutes thanks to the proliferation of smart phones.

Some private security companies have adapted to the extent that they are considerably reliant on local staff (not just Iraqi nationals, as specified by Iraqi law.) This bond with the community is often vital and is now happening in Al-Qaim: the town where the Abu Mahal tribe started the first uprising against al-Qaeda in 2005 that shattered the organization (before it was allowed to revitalize) lies close to the Akkas gas field in Anbar, currently being worked on by the Korean company KOGAS.

Haider Abadi, projects manager at Al Sajer Security explains that this could be one of the most dangerous private security jobs in the world. But with the Anbar council supporting the project and local tribal involvement, it is currently manageable. Haider Abadi’s work shows us that PSCs are not only securing their clients, but also Iraq’s economic future.

By Robert Tollast.

Robert Tollast is a consultant at Noorbridge, a Helsinki based consultancy with staff in London and Nasiriyah, Iraq. He has written extensively on security, politics and economic issues in Iraq for various publications, and is currently researching a modern history of Iraq with support from The Middle East Forum. email: bobtollast@gmail.com twitter: @roberttollast

As Iraqi troops continue to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Fallujah and Ramadi, a different kind of battle is brewing 350 miles to the southeast, one that could prove just as decisive for Iraq’s future. In Basra this year, the province has more cause for more hope than in previous years. Here’s why.

The dawn of strategy

At the end of 2012, Colin Freeman reported a story in The Telegraph that made for depressing reading: Britain was closing its consulate in Basra, just as the province was experiencing a surge in foreign investment from all over the world.

Last month I spoke to a former British diplomat and asked him why this was, and he remarked that security costs- around £6m per year, were the equivalent to several embassies. But that wasn’t the only thing keeping the British away.

Another factor that has often deterred foreign investors is of course bureaucracy and the difficulty of getting your business on the ground because of Iraq’s fondness for red tape. Discouraging contractual terms offered to investors have put a stop to many potential ventures, as someone with years of experience in the country recently told me, “Iraq is good at killing the goose before it lays the golden eggs.”

But things might be about to change. Last week, Freeman published another story in The Telegraph reporting that Basra governor Nasrawi had hired the British firm Aegis Defence Services to institutionalise the latest counter-terrorism practices for the province.

Governor Nasrawi (from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) seems to understand what counter-terrorism involves, remarking in a recent al-Monitor interview that CT was not primarily a conventional military task. The fact that he has invited a British general who was involved in the invasion is certainly an interesting story.

But Nasrawi (elected last April) is also keen to make progress in other areas. He recently hired American firm Hill International on a long term contract to oversee strategic planning and contracts with foreign companies. As he asserted in the al-Monitor interview, Nasrawi appeared determined that Basra was going to beat corruption, short termism and develop a strategy. Out with four year plans, and in with long term goals.