US offers Iraq $3 billion credit line

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Kuwait City. (Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2018
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US offers Iraq $3 billion credit line

KUWAIT CITY:  The US will lend Iraq $3 billion to help rebuild the country, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday as international companies and governments were invited to invest in projects in a nation decimated by the war with Daesh.

Speaking at a conference hosted by Kuwait, Tillerson called on members of the international coalition fighting the extremist group to contribute to reconstruction costs to help stop its return. 

Cities and towns in the north and west of Iraq suffered severe damage after they were stormed in a Daesh offensive in 2014 and then liberated by Iraqi forces supported by the coalition. Victory was declared in December. 

Rebuilding the country will cost more than $88 billion, Iraqi officials told the conference, with  $22.9 billion needed in the short term.

“Doing business in Iraq can be complicated, but the market has potential,” Tillerson told hundreds of businessmen and officials. “Investment opportunities presented today are just a fraction of what is possible.”

Tillerson said the government-run Export-Import Bank of the United States signed a $3 billion memorandum of understanding with Iraq’s Finance Ministry “that will set a stage for future cooperation.”

US businesses have already been “successfully” operating in Iraq in the past few months, and several commercial agreements have been signed to supply the country with $2 billion worth of agricultural products, electricity equipment and renewable energy technologies, he added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi called the conference “a genuine invitation to invest” in his country.

Iraq is fertile soil for investments following Daesh’s defeat, said Oil Minister Jabbar Al-Luaibi. Iraq says it needs $7 billion to repair its oil and gas fields. 

Al-Luaibi called for investment in the energy sector, and said Iraq has begun a new stage of rebuilding a state on a “solid, civilized basis.”

He added: “The doors are open. If you are Iraqi, you are welcome… I myself give priority to Iraqis, not only investors but also contractors.”

Iraq is working to relaunch the Baiji oil refinery, which was destroyed by Daesh. There are 73 discovered oil fields, 30 percent of them under development, Al-Luaibi said.

Ali Al-Ghanim, chairman of the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), which organized the event, said it signals the “beginning of a phase of security and stability in the region.”

He added: “Iraq is fertile soil for investments. The environment is more receptive than anywhere in the world… Iraq has potential. It has natural and human resources.”

Hafeth Ghanem, vice president of the World Bank for the Middle East and North Africa, said Iraq’s reconstruction is a goal for the international community, and will contribute to regional stability and security. 

Kuwait is also interested in contributing to the Iraqi market with its private sector. Ghanem said several meetings took place with representatives of Kuwaiti private firms to discuss the contribution. 

The US is hoping other Arab Gulf countries will invest in Iraq, particularly after relations between Riyadh and Baghdad improved last year with a series of high-level meetings.

Ghanem said the World Bank’s work in Iraq will involve financial and social projects, and rebuilding hospitals and schools in areas liberated from Daesh.

There was much emphasis on the importance of involving the private sector in Iraq’s reconstruction.

The oil minister said the government wants to involve the private sector in producing petrol and building gas stations.

The International Finance Corp. (IFC), the private lending arm of the World Bank Group, is working with the government to push the Iraqi private sector to invest and manage some aspects of the oil and gas sector. 

According to the Central Bank of Iraq (CBI), 64 of the banks operating in the country are private, 17 are foreign and seven are public.

International non-governmental organizations pledged $330.1 million on the first day of the three-day conference.


From Beirut to Babila, Syrian refugee family returns home

Syrian child Luay drinks milk before boarding a bus with his family on Sept. 17, as they return to Syria after living as refugees in Lebanon for years. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 47 sec ago
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From Beirut to Babila, Syrian refugee family returns home

  • Since Syria’s conflict erupted, more than 5 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries and another 6 million are internally displaced
  • Around 6,000 refugees have gone back to Syria in these coordinated returns since April, according to an AFP tally

BEIRUT: Syrian toddler Luay happily explores his grandfather’s modest house near Damascus for the first time. After years as refugees in Lebanon, the three-year-old and his family have returned to their homeland. They are among several thousand Syrians who have made an emotional journey home from Lebanon, where they sought safety from the war that has ravaged their native country since 2011. Worn down by tough economic conditions in Lebanon and seeing regime victories back home as bringing stability, they have taken advantage of return trips coordinated by Lebanese and Syrian authorities.
Last month Luay’s father Rawad Kurdi, 30, his mother, and his baby sister Luliya decided to make the trip themselves. As the sun was rising, they lined up with dozens of other refugees to board buses that would whisk them out of Beirut. With them were more than a dozen suitcases and boxes — everything they could carry from their five years in Lebanon. During a nine-hour wait for the buses to move, Rawad was anxious to end his family’s long exile. “This return is definitive. I will never leave Syria again,” he told AFP.
In 2012, Rawad and his 35 relatives were forced to flee their hometown of Babila southeast of Damascus after fighting broke out between rebels and government forces.
They came to Lebanon. Three years later, some of the elderly family members including Rawad’s father Ahmad returned to Syria, and more have hit the road home since.
Rawad’s return to Babila meant Ahmad, now 70, could finally meet the two grandchildren born in Lebanon after he left. A content look on his face, Ahmad sits with one-year-old Luliya in his lap, as Luay scrambles over the couch in the dimly lit living room. “My home is not worth anything without my children and grandchildren. Now, both I and my home feel alive again,” said Ahmad, his hands stained black from picking eggplants on his nearby land. Although six of his children have already returned to Syria, another three are still living as refugees in Lebanon. One day, he hopes, they can all be reunited back home. “I’d much rather live with my children and grandchildren in war, than them being safe but far away,” he said. Since Syria’s conflict erupted, more than 5 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries and another 6 million are internally displaced.
But back-to-back military victories this year have put more than two-thirds of Syria under regime control, including Babila and other areas around the capital in the spring.
These wins prompted host countries, like Lebanon, to encourage refugees to move back home. Just under 1 million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, although the number is likely higher.
This year, Beirut and Damascus began coordinating weekly convoys taking Syrians back home, only if their names are cleared by Syrian security services.
Around 6,000 refugees have gone back to Syria in these coordinated returns since April, according to an AFP tally. Others have remained in exile, fearing Syria’s compulsory military service or stuck in too much debt to leave Lebanon. Rawad said he is exempt from the army because he is overweight.
He wanted to leave in 2015 with his father, but said he was unable to cross the border because he could not afford paying fines he had accrued for overstaying his residency in Lebanon. This September, the Lebanese authorities waived these penalties for those taking part in the coordinated returns, and Rawad decided to bring his family home.
Back in Babila, he gazes at old photos hanging on the wall. “War has changed us so much, and then came emigration, also leaving its marks on our faces and in our eyes,” said the portly tailor in a gray T-shirt and sleeveless black jacket. The fabric workshops he owned in Babila have been looted, but he remains optimistic.
“For now, the future is uncertain — but however long it takes, goodness will only come from this land,” he said. The dream of returning home also kept Rawad from seeking asylum in Europe. “As beautiful, quiet and safe as those countries were, they could never be a substitute for the one where my family, my memories and my neighbors are,” he said. He spends his days with family or wandering the streets of Babila, eager to get to know its streets and homes again. During such a stroll, his phone rings. It is his brother Ayman, who still lives in Lebanon and is hesitating to return. “There is no reason to stay in Lebanon. The war is over,” Rawad reassured him.