Money moves again in Iraq’s Mosul, but not via banks

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A photo taken on October 14, 2018 shows an electric appliance store in Mosul. Since militants were ousted from Mosul last year, taxi driver Abu Aref has ferried more than just people into Iraq's second city: he regularly smuggles envelopes stuffed with cash. (AFP)
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A car drives past a graffiti in the street of Mosul, Iraq October 27, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A picture taken on October 14, 2018 shows an electric appliance store in Mosul. (AFP)
Updated 04 November 2018

Money moves again in Iraq’s Mosul, but not via banks

  • The reach of banks in Mosul appear to be par for the course in Iraq, where only one in ten people has an account, according to the World Bank
  • But the central bank has not budged on its ban on transfers to and from the city

MOSUL, Iraq: Since militants were ousted from Mosul last year, taxi driver Abu Aref has ferried more than just people into Iraq’s second city: he regularly smuggles envelopes stuffed with cash.
This is how salaries are paid and bills settled in the northern metropolis, despite the banks reopening since Iraqi forces seized it back last year from the Daesh group after three years of militants rule.
Iraqi authorities, fearing that free flows of money could help finance an IS comeback, have not authorized even simple transfers.
So Mosul banks, exchange offices, and money transfer companies have watched helplessly as more rudimentary methods fill the gap.
Abu Aref said he typically carries anywhere between $10,000 (8,800 euros) to $50,000 at a time in his cab.
“I put the money in an envelope that I then tape underneath my seat,” he told AFP.
The journey can be risky. One of his colleagues was recently the victim of a highway robbery along the 200-kilometer (120-mile) route between Mosul and Baiji, further south.
“Despite the risks, businessmen entrust this much money to me because they don’t have another choice,” the 35 year-old said.
IS swept into Mosul in 2014, seizing several hundred million dollars from a branch of Iraq’s central bank and other financial institutions.
Mosul came back under Iraqi government control in July 2017 after a months-long assault that left its infrastructure devastated, but IS cells appear to remain active.
Security forces last month arrested nearly a dozen members of an IS financial network based in Iraq, according to a US-led coalition against the militants in Iraq and Syria.
The central bank has remained wary of resuming operations in Mosul, saying it wants to know “where this money comes from and where it’s going.”
Around 20 private and state-owned banks have reopened in Mosul, allowing residents to open an account, deposit and withdraw money, and issue cheques.
But the central bank has not budged on its ban on transfers to and from the city.
That decision appears to have hurt business owners trying to rekindle economic activity in Mosul, a centuries-old trade hub with access to Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian markets.
Among them is Abdullah Basman, a Mosul native who sells computer parts brought in from other areas of Iraq and from Dubai.
To pay suppliers, he hands envelopes of cash to a driver he trusts, who rushes the money to Baghdad and wires it to other Iraqi cities or internationally to pay the shop’s bills.
“The banks in Mosul are just buildings. Nothing more,” said Basman, 27.
For company employee Abu Akram, the ban on bank transfers means he often goes months without a salary, which is issued from his firm’s headquarters in Baghdad.
The 35-year-old relies on friends of relatives who traverse the dusty 400 kilometers (250 miles) south to Baghdad or travel to nearby Iraqi Kurdistan to retrieve his cash.
But there are hiccups.
“Sometimes, my company refuses to give my salary to someone other than me. With a taxi, there’s a risk of an accident or of theft,” Abu Akram told AFP.
The reach of banks in Mosul appear to be par for the course in Iraq, where only one in ten people has an account, according to the World Bank.
“The banking system in Iraq is underdeveloped, dominated by inefficient state-owned banks. Some of them are believed to be capital deficient and extend little credit to the private sector,” the multilateral lender wrote in a recent report.
“Private banks are small and they are mostly active in currency exchanges and wire transfers.”
Despite the challenges, Iraqi economist Rafea Ahmed says multiple businesses and investors have already resumed operations in Mosul.
“They rapidly brought back their money in their own ways,” he said.
Secret transfers even continued during IS’s rule over the city, with family members living in Baghdad finding ways to smuggle money to relatives stuck inside Mosul.
Some of that cash, says Ahmed, has contributed to the revival already visible in Mosul.
Even if the banks sit empty, the restaurants, commercial centers, and open markets are now buzzing with activity.


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”