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.


‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

Updated 26 March 2019
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‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

  • Markus Kerber: “What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany”
  • Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community

ANKARA: Germany has reportedly initiated a campaign to push German Muslims to develop a new interpretation of Islam, the Financial Times reported on Monday. 

“What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany,” Markus Kerber, the government representative responsible for relations with the Muslim community under the German Interior Ministry, reportedly told the Financial Times.

The move of Europe’s economic powerhouse is expected to influence Turkey’s state-led diaspora engagement with German-Turks as well as its state-level relations with Germany. But experts do not anticipate relations to further deteriorate as they say they are already as bad as they can get. 

Turks, mostly from the conservative section of society, have been emigrating to Germany since the early 1960s; originally as guest workers during the economic boom. They have since become the largest Muslim community in the country. 

Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community and provide homegrown training to all imams preaching in Germany. 

The largest Islamic organization in Germany is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, which is affiliated to Turkey’s state directorate for religious affairs. Turkey is sending imams to Germany who are paid by the Turkish government and who are preaching in Turkish in 900 mosques funded by Ankara.

According to Yoruk Halil, a halal butcher living in Frankfurt, Germany’s new move will be beneficial for the Turkish Muslim community. 

“Those imams coming from Turkey do not benefit Turkish youth in Germany because these young people have been raised with a totally different culture and they mostly speak German, so they cannot establish a healthy dialogue with those imams,” Halil told Arab News. “In order to reach out to the Muslim community, including Turks, there is a need to use homegrown imams. 

My 15-year-old son has been going to the mosque for five years and he even told me that he has better communication with imams being trained and educated in Germany,” he said. 

There is also a continuing debate over requiring Muslims in Germany to pay a worship tax.

Turkey is against any “Germanification” of Islam and considers any redefinition of Islam for Germany against the universality of the religion. 

Germany’s move intends to further integrate Muslims’ daily routines into German society, to boost the loyalty of the 3 million members of the German-Turkish community.  It is therefore considered a move for breaking the Turkish community’s ties with their national and religious identity as well as their traditions.

Last year, German police recorded some 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September, while about half of Germans think that Islam is incompatible with the values of their nation, according to recent research by pollster YouGov.

“Turkey has been developing diaspora politics since the mid-2000s, and Turks in Germany have been put at the center of it,” Murat Onsoy, an expert in Turkey-Germany relations at Hacettepe University in Ankara, told Arab News. 

However, for Onsoy, the presence of imams in Germany who have been appointed by Turkey is a socialization factor for the Turkish diaspora — who show relatively low rates of crime — and to maintain their links with their home country. 

“If Germany rejects Turkish funding to these mosques, they will face serious difficulties in covering their expenses,” he said. 

Germany has a community of about 4.5 million Muslims worshipping at about 2,400 mosques, and the number is expected to rise with the refugee influx from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Sy The German federal constitution, called Basic Law, gives autonomy to Muslim communities to receive funding and religious officials from abroad to operate mosques in Germany. 

“It is unlikely that this article of the constitution would be easily amended. Various provinces would react to such a move, resulting in widespread protests. The Turkish government would raise the issue at the intergovernmental Islamic organizations, and the German government would be obliged take a step back,” Onsoy said. 

He, however, draws attention to the timing of the debate. 

“It coincides with the upcoming local elections in Turkey this Sunday, and in the past we witnessed that such potential crises with Western countries have been used by the ruling government to consolidate its voters through engaging in international polemics and assuming the role of the defender of external Turks and ‘Islam’ worldwide,” he said. 

Ayhan Kaya, professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the move in Germany to bring a homegrown reading to Islam had already been on the table since Angela Merkel’s initiative in 2006. 

“Although it contradicts with the Sunni Islam rhetoric, what Germany did is a counter-move against the lobbying strategies of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco or Algeria within German territories,” he told Arab News. 

Kaya also noted that in the past Germany and Turkey developed joint projects to train imams who would be appointed in Germany by providing them with linguistic and cultural-integration skills. 

“This latest move is a dialectic result of the political maneuvers on the diasporas by countries who are sending and receiving migration,” he said.