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.


UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

Updated 18 August 2018
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UN chief proposes options to protect Palestinians

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday presented four options aimed at boosting the protection of Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territories, from sending UN rights monitors and unarmed observers to deploying a military or police force under UN mandate.
The proposals were contained in a report requested by the General Assembly in response to a surge of violence in Gaza, where 171 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since late March.
The UN chief stressed that for each of the options, cooperation by Israel and the Palestinians would be necessary. It remained unlikely however that Israel would agree to the proposals.
In the 14-page report, Guterres proposed:
• Providing a “more robust UN presence on the ground” with rights monitors and political officers to report on the situation.
• Pouring in more UN humanitarian and development aid to “ensure the well-being of the population.”
• Creating a civilian observer mission that would be present in sensitive areas such as checkpoints and near Israeli settlements, with a mandate to report on protection issues.
• Deploying an armed military or police force, under a UN mandate, to provide physical protection to Palestinian civilians.
A UN mandate for a protection force would require a decision from the Security Council, where the United States could use its veto power to block a measure opposed by Israel.
A small European-staffed observer mission was deployed in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1994, but Israel has since rejected calls for an international presence in flashpoint areas.
In the report, Guterres said the United Nations was already undertaking many protection initiatives but that “these measures fall short” of the concerns raised in a General Assembly resolution adopted in June.
In that measure, the 193-nation assembly condemned Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza and tasked Guterres with the drafting of proposals for “an international protection mechanism” for the Palestinians.
Guterres argued that a political solution to the conflict was needed to address the safety of Palestinians but that “until such a solution is achieved, member-states may further explore all practical and feasible measures that will significantly improve the protection of the Palestinian civilian population.”
“Such measures would also improve the security of Israeli civilians.”
On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians taking part in protests along the Gaza border and 270 other Palestinians were wounded.
Israel has defended its use of live ammunition in Gaza by invoking its right to self-defense. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.
“The targeting of civilians, particularly children, is unacceptable,” Guterres said in the report, adding that “those responsible for violations of international humanitarian law must be held accountable.”
UN efforts to ensure the well-being of Palestinians must strengthened, he added, singling out the funding crisis at the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as being “of particular concern.”
UNRWA is facing a major budget shortfall after President Donald Trump’s administration decided to withhold its contribution to the agency.
The report released to all UN member-states comes amid a vacuum in Middle East peace efforts as European and other big powers await a peace plan from the Trump administration that has been under discussion for months.
UN diplomats have recently begun questioning whether the US peace plan will ever materialize.
The United Nations has warned that a new war could explode in Gaza.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including its Hamas rulers, have fought three wars since 2008.