By Ashley Goodall.

At this challenging time what kind of activities are businesses undertaking in Iraq and how are they doing things differently?

In canvassing Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) members, we found a consistent pattern of adaptation and response across the membership which can be summarized in three headings:

  • Firstly, taking care of staff and looking after their well-being and income. Members recognize that employees are the most valuable element in a business, and for those who wish to sustain their businesses longer term, employee care is top of the list, with regular online calls and management videos to support people working at distance. Ultimately this is good leadership and communications.
  • Secondly, Technical adaptation: in supporting employees and clients, businesses are undertaking various adaptations, mainly the move to work from home and using online technology to enable this. Often, home video conferences and use of Skype/Teams or Zoom are the first time these systems have been used and should well lead to longer term benefits and changes. In this way businesses are becoming more flexible and productive delivering work and client activities.
  • Finally, Communication: those who work with clients are spending more time supporting them online, especially where an intangible service such as Insurance, Banking or Consultancy are concerned. Communicating, regularly and constantly is key to retaining and supporting client business for the short and long term.

One of the most proactive is Sardar Group who tell us:

Due to the present lock down across all the cities we operate in Iraq, all our companies are working from home.

“Business, which was very busy until the 14th March 2020, has suddenly come to a halt and effected all our business big time by stopping all the operations and thereby stopped all turnover.

“To support our employees, we have Group-wide travel restrictions that are updated regularly based on changing conditions and on advice from governments and health ministries. As well as ensuring that we meet all local regulatory authority requirements, we have instituted additional measures such as reduced face-to-face meetings, working from home, split teams and locations, and cancelling or delaying community events.

“We are arranging salary payment to all the employees in regular intervals subject to the governments relaxing the lock downs. Many companies are unable to pay for salaries, but Sardar Group is planning to support our employees for a longer period of time.

John Goering of Constellis says:

“Our primary business in supporting the Oil & Gas industry in southern Iraq continues to function. With our staffing, we have adopted a one in one out system, so the majority of the staff in now are probably in for a bit of a long haul. We are operating at full capacity, but remain flexible to our clients’ needs and dispositions, it’s challenging times for sure!”

Sara Safa Kasim, MD of Al-Maseer Insurance, quotes:

“We are working from home and at a distance – and have put new systems in place to support that. Enjoyably, we are also connecting more with clients to support them at this time.”

Mike Douglas of SKA said:

“We stand firm in the face of adversity and get the job done. These combined challenges just make us more determined to succeed. Fuel supplies are vital to industry, transport and power generation and we will keep them flowing.

“Of note, the vital dredging we just completed during the curfew, guarantees that the biggest cargos on LR2 vessels, are not stalled; before we started, that size of ship had never been seen in the river. The company was built on the motto of “doing difficult jobs in difficult places” and now, more than ever, that is true.’

“We thank all our local and expatriate staff, and the Iraq Government, for their steadfast support and cooperation. We realize that it is not easy to be away from homes and families in these challenging times, but together we will continue to ensure that the Iraqi people get what they need to overcome these daily challenges. We hope and pray that SKA as a company and Iraq as a nation will emerge stronger at the end of all this.

Shehad Khudairi from the Khudairi Group reports:

We are looking into various options such as online ordering and delivery (via Miswag). At the moment, Iraq is essentially shut down, so we are trying to find ways to continue to do business.

“We are communicating internally a lot more and trying to keep morale high in a very uncertain time, via video messages. Additionally, we are trying to keep the employees as safe as possible with our HSE team. Each branch has to report daily on every single touch point of the offices.

“The HSE team is most useful to our business to ensure the safety of our employees. Additionally, being flexible on how we work and our personnel are key to ensuring we are able to ride this out.

Raed Hanna of Mutual Finance, tells of how technology and online communications via Skype and Hangouts are enabling new ways to communicate for them with video conferences and virtual meetings.

Finally, Phil Malem of Serco Middle East says:

Patients in hospitals rely on us now more than ever. We are preparing for peaks in demand and implementing infection screening and control measures across the healthcare facilities we work in.

“Citizens still need to get from A to B and our frontline staff are committed to keeping vital infrastructure operating. Our business continuity planning and workforce management ensures that sickness leaves of absence do not affect the operational efficiency or experience of those using a service.

“Residents should feel like everything possible is being done to protect them and where we operate in real estate or the higher education space, disinfection is a key priority. Escalating cleaning and sanitisation programmes is increasing confidence within the communities across the facilities we support.

“Across all sectors we operate in, it is our responsibility to ensure all staff are educated and trained on good hygiene practice and understand how they can do their bit to limit the spread of this disease. Increased sanitisation programmes across company provided accommodation and transportation have been introduced. Staff health is being monitored daily with various programmes, including temperature checking, which provides an early warning of the onset of any fever related conditions.

The upshot of all this is that challenging times bring out the best of best management practice:

Do the right things and look after and care for your people, as they are your most valuable asset. Find new ways to adapt and communicate with them, deploy new technology, and ensure your communications are working harder to support clients and staff alike.

While times are challenging, it could be a time to upskill, build in resilience and make your business even more productive for the long term. The future will be different.

(Source: Ashley Goodall, IBBC)

Belgium, Netherlands and Sweden commit $5 million to tackle COVID-19 outbreak

The governments of Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden have collectively committed US$5 million to support the Government of Iraq’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, in partnership with UNDP Iraq.

The funds, which were originally pledged under UNDP’s Funding Facility for Stabilization to help rehabilitate infrastructure damaged by ISIL, are now being urgently redirected to support UNDP Iraq’s initial $24 million COVID-19 response package.

Measures to combat the virus under this package include increasing the testing capacity of laboratories, providing personal protective equipment to healthcare workers, increasing the number of isolation wards, and undertaking assessments to establish post-COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Focusing on the most vulnerable communities in Iraq, activities will be rolled out in eight hospitals selected by local authorities in the underserved areas of Anbar, Diyala, Dohuk, Basra, Karbala, Najaf, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din.

Resident Representative of UNDP Iraq, Zena Ali Ahmad, said:

Containing the coronavirus outbreak is now the Government of Iraq’s number one priority, particularly as infection rates rise, putting more pressure on the Iraqi healthcare system outside the major capitals. We’re extremely grateful to Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden for acting swiftly to commit these funds and being so flexible in administering them.

“Due to the strict curfews imposed by the Government of Iraq, we’ve had no choice but to temporarily halt the implementation of our stabilization activities. However, by capitalizing on the tried-and-tested processes of our successful stabilization work, we will respond to this unprecedented global health crisis with the speed and agility UNDP Iraq is known for.

Once this pandemic is under control, our stabilization activities will resume. Until then, we will work closely with the Government of Iraq, the World Health Organisation and other UN agencies to curb the crisis as best we can.

UNDP Iraq is currently discussing the remaining $19 million funding gap with other international partners.

Processes have been established to ensure that once funds have been committed, the response measures can be implemented immediately.

(Source: UN)

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) welcomes an additional contribution of USD 3.6 million from the Government of Japan to support reconstruction and peacebuilding in Iraq through the rehabilitation of war-damaged houses and construction of low-cost housing units in Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate.

Under the new phase of this project, UN-Habitat will improve living conditions in Sinjar through a comprehensive urban recovery approach, including

(a) rehabilitation of public spaces and infrastructure,

(b) construction of low-cost housing units to accommodate returnees whose houses are totally destroyed and have not received any support for rehabilitation or reconstruction of their houses, and

(c) vocational training. Graduates of the vocational training will be employed for rehabilitation and construction activities implemented by UN-Habitat, which will contribute to rebuilding their livelihoods.

His Excellency Mr. Hashimoto Naofumi, Ambassador of Japan to the Republic of Iraq, stated:

Japan has recently decided to provide a new assistance package for Iraq amounting to USD 41 million including this project as assistance for conflict-affected areas in Ninewa Governorate. With this package, the total amount of Japan’s assistance to the people affected by the crisis reaches USD 540 million since 2014.

“I hope that the assistance from the Government and people of Japan will help rebuild livelihoods of affected communities through rehabilitating community infrastructure and housing units“.

UN-Habitat is grateful to the people and the Government of Japan for their continuous generous support which allows integration of the New Urban Agenda and physical interventions for post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding.

In line with the New Urban Agenda, UN-Habitat is committed to promote adequate services, accommodation and decent job opportunities for conflict-affected persons in urban settings.

With a contribution of approximately $55 million since 2015, the Government of Japan has been a vital partner to UN-Habitat’s Iraq Programme.

(Source: Reliefweb)

Iraqi regulator suspends Reuters’ license for 3 months over COVID-19 report

Iraqi authorities should immediately reinstate the license of the Reuters news agency, and allow all media outlets to cover the COVID-19 pandemic freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the Communications and Media Commission (CMC), Iraq’s media regulator, suspended Reuters’ license for three months and fined it 25 million Iraqi dinars ($21,000) for a news report published the same day, which alleged that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country are much higher than official statistics, according to a statement from the regulator and news reports.

In its statement, the regulator accused Reuters of relying on vague and untrue sources to fabricate news about pandemic in Iraq, and accused Reuters of endangering public safety and hindering the government’s efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. It also urged Reuters to issue a public apology to the government and the Iraqi people.

CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado, said:

If Iraq’s media regulator continues to suspend media outlets critical of the authorities, soon there won’t be any outlet left in Iraq at a time when the flow of news is vital to contain the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

“We call on Iraq´s media regulator to restore Reuters’ license and allow its staff to do their jobs freely and without fear of reprisal.

The Reuters report cited three doctors involved in the COVID-19 testing process, a health ministry official, and a senior political official, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because medical staff have been instructed not to speak to the media. Those sources alleged that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was thousands higher than the official count of 772.

After the report was published, the Iraqi government on its official Twitter account criticized “some news agencies” for falsely claiming that the numbers disclosed by authorities were inaccurate.

In a statement sent to CPJ via messaging app, Reuters said it had not received any notification from Iraqi authorities regarding the license and was seeking clarification on the matter. The news agency said it stands by the story.

Iraq has also suspended the printing and distribution of newspapers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to news reports. Yemen, Oman, Jordan, Morocco, and Iran have similarly banned newspapers, as CPJ has documented.

On April 1, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission issued a series of new regulations restricting the movement and work of journalists and media outlets, forcing radio stations and broadcasters to reduce their staff to a minimum, requiring journalists and media workers to wear protective gear, and providing the Joint Operations Command and the Baghdad Operations Command with a list of licensed radio stations and broadcasters, according to news reports and the local press freedom group the Press Freedom Advocacy Association in Iraq.

The Media and Communications Commission did not immediately reply to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email and social media.

(Source: CPJ)

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

Soleimani’s successor visits Iraq, then Trump tweets warning to Iran

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to warn Iran against further attacks on US forces in Iraq – the same day that Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that the new head of the Quds Force had recently visited Baghdad.

Upon information and belief, Iran or its proxies are planning a sneak attack on U.S. troops and/or assets in Iraq,” Trump tweeted. “If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not directly deny an Iranian plot in Iraq in his tweeted rebuttal.

Instead he characterized Iranian proxies as “friends” and obliquely referenced Trump’s January strike on former Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Click here to read the full article.