Greeks help­ing re­build Mo­sul

Busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties open­ing up in war-torn Iraqi city as it strives to re­cover

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY YIAN­NIS PA­PADOPOU­LOS

In June, 2014, the in­struc­tions were clear: Stay away from Mo­sul. The city, Iraq’s sec­ond largest, had just been cap­tured by the so-called Is­lamic State, whose fighters faced vir­tu­ally no re­sis­tance in do­ing so. “Who­ever has busi­ness in Mo­sul or Kirkuk no longer has a rea­son to be there,” the only Greek of­fi­cial in the re­gion told Greek res­i­dents of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan, who mainly com­prised en­trepreneurs in the con­struc­tion and build­ing ma­te­ri­als trade.

Three years later, af­ter nine months of siege, bom­bard­ment and fight­ing to take back Mo­sul street by street, Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi of­fi­cially de­clared vic­tory. Once the fight­ing stopped, how­ever, the scale of the de­struc­tion was shock­ing. Homes, streets and en­tire neigh­bor­hoods were in com­plete ruin.

A Greek busi­ness­man, who spoke to Kathimerini on the phone and asked that his name not be pub­lished for se­cu­rity rea­sons, was man­ag­ing a quarry and a con­crete pro­duc­tion com­pany in north­ern Iraq. He saw some of the freshly bombed-out areas of Mo­sul soon af­ter they had been taken back from the ji­hadists. De­spite the flight of many Greeks from the re­gion in re­cent years, he de­cided to stay and is look­ing to the fu­ture while keep­ing a close eye on de­vel­op­ments.

He trans­ferred his op­er­a­tions to Iraqi Kur­dis­tan four years ago, when the in­vest­ment cli­mate there was fa­vor­able. “Back then, seven out of 10 ve­hi­cles you would see on the road were con­crete mix­ers and ma­chin­ery,” he said. He brought seven Greeks with him to work as ex­ec­u­tives and hired lo­cals as la­bor­ers. “We haven’t be­gun any con­struc­tion projects in Mo­sul yet,” he said. The fight against ISIS has changed eco­nomic pri­or­i­ties in the re­gion. Be­fore the war, more than 100 Greek en­trepreneurs were in Iraqi Kur­dis­tan. That num­ber has since shrunk to 30. They live and work in a ra­dius of more than 80 kilo­me­ters from Mo­sul. Be­yond en­trepreneurs, these also in­clude Greek women who have mar­ried Iraqis.

In­ter­na­tional re­la­tions an­a­lyst Dr Athana­sios Ma­nis, a res­i­dent of Er­bil since Oc­to­ber, 2014, re­cently re­turned to Greece. “While a re­stric­tive eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment re­mains, the re­gional govern­ment of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan is work­ing to at­tract in­vest­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the ex­trac­tion of oil and nat­u­ral gas,” he ex­plained.

Though it’s not yet clear what a re­con­structed Mo­sul will look like, or with what it will be built, the Greek busi­ness­man who spoke to Kathimerini has made contact with lo­cal of­fi­cials. As a first step, the topic of whether or not con­struc­tion equip­ment will be al­lowed in the area soon has been dis­cussed. Be­fore ISIS took Mo­sul, Greeks were among the pro­fes­sion­als in the city en­gaged in the build­ing ma­te­ri­als trade.

Stavros Stavrakos, head of the Re­gional Of­fice for Eco­nomic and Com­mer­cial Af­fairs of Greece in Er­bil, says an­other Greek con­struc­tion com­pany will soon start op­er­at­ing in north­ern Iraq. On May 18, the sec­ond Iraqi-Eu­ro­pean Busi­ness and In­vest­ment Fo­rum was held in Athens. Among the top­ics dis­cussed there were in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and in­fra­struc­ture projects in Iraq, while at the end of the con­fer­ence there were pri­vate meet­ings be­tween Greek and Iraqi en­trepreneurs.

Iraq’s Min­is­ter of Plan­ning Sal­man al-Ju­maili es­ti­mated the coun­try’s re­con­struc­tion costs af­ter the end of the war will amount to $100 bil­lion, and that it will take about 10 years. How­ever, Dr Ma­nis said that po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments are still a cru­cial fac­tor, adding that the re­gional govern­ment in Er­bil will hold a ref­er­en­dum on the in­de­pen­dence of Iraqi Kur­dis­tan on Septem­ber 25.

Iraq’s min­is­ter of plan­ning es­ti­mates re­con­struc­tion costs af­ter the end of the war at $100 bil­lion.

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