Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

Iraqi Omar Abdallah operates at his workshop in Basra on June 17, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 June 2018

Young Iraqis use innovation to make a living in oil-rich south

  • The job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era
  • In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism

BASRA: From a roving cafe to scrap metal sculptures, young Iraqis unable to tap into the country’s oil wealth are having to find creative ways to make a living.
While their parents generally went straight into public sector jobs after graduation, the job market for Iraqi youths has become starkly different in the post-Saddam Hussein era.
In the decade which followed the US invasion and the dictator’s ouster in 2003, authorities continued to increase state hirings — with a heavy dose of nepotism.
But now, as 26-year-old Karrar Alaa discovered, there are no more guarantees.
Three years ago, he was counting on his business degree leading to a public sector job in the southern port city of Basra.
But tired of waiting, he has turned entrepreneur.
After gathering up all of his savings and borrowing money from relatives, Alaa invested in a car and transformed it into a coffee shop on wheels.
“It’s the first of its kind in Basra. I got the idea from a video shot in Europe and posted on Facebook,” he told AFP.
The “Coffee 2 Go” car has a giant plastic cup mounted on the roof, while an image of a cup of cappuccino and coffee beans is emblazoned on the body.
An initial investment of $20,000 has led to daily earnings of around 150,000 dinars, or $120, from cups of coffee made in a machine installed in the car boot.
Mashreq Jabbar earns similar sums from his little bookshop squeezed into a corridor of a Basra fashion mall.
“Renting a shop costs $6,000 a month; I only pay $2,500 for my hallway,” said the slim 26-year-old, as he tidied shelves of school books, romantic novels and poetry collections.
The geology graduate had also hoped to get a job as a public official, confident that his degree would make him employable in the local oil industry.
But even though the sector accounts for 89 percent of the state budget and 99 percent of Iraq’s export revenues, it provides only one percent of jobs as the majority of posts are filled by foreigners.
The lack of opportunities is nationwide; from the capital Baghdad to second city Mosul in the north, and from the agricultural east to the western desert.
It is not uncommon to find engineers working as taxi drivers, or sandwich stalls manned by literature graduates in a country of avid readers.
Officially, 10.8 percent of Iraqis are jobless, while youth unemployment is twice as high in a country where 60 percent of the population are aged under 24.
A mushrooming number of private universities — with Baghdad boasting around 30 — has made the situation even worse among graduates.
The private sector which emerged after Saddam’s rule has failed to fill the employment gap, with many young Iraqis holding out for the coveted public sector posts.
“The common view is that there’s no choice but to work in the public sector,” said Ahmed Abdel Hassan, an economics professor at the University of Basra.
“Young people who go to work in the private sector say it’s a temporary move before getting a post in the public sector,” he said.
Even Basra’s entrepreneurs see the benefits, with Alaa noting the social security and pension perks, while Jabbar pointed to civil servants’ guaranteed salaries.
Many of those holding out for a state job, however, are left unable to move out of their parents’ house.
Omar Abdallah, 28, had pinned his hopes on getting a teaching job at the end of his studies in fine art.
Iraq once had a high-quality and free education system, but that was left in tatters following the international embargo of the 1990s after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
Having failed to land a job and with no capital to start a business of his own, Abdallah began collecting scrap metal.
“I could only count on myself and my talent,” he said at his family home, where one room serves as both his workshop and exhibition space.
Abdallah has transformed old bicycle chains into scorpions, cutlery into dragonflies and used nuts and bolts to make motorbike models.
In a good month he can sell half a dozen sculptures, charging between $200 and $250 apiece.
“People love my sculptures,” he said proudly. “They tell me: ‘How did you manage to make something so beautiful out of rubbish?’“

ADNOC wants its flagship crude as global benchmark

Updated 49 min 5 sec ago

ADNOC wants its flagship crude as global benchmark

  • Abu Dhabi oil giant’s ambitious call comes amid falling Brent volumes and new UAE exchange plan

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) is aiming to have its Murban futures contract eventually replace North Sea benchmark Brent whose volumes are declining, an ADNOC executive said on Tuesday.

Intercontinental Exchange Inc. plans to launch a new exchange in the UAE, ICE Futures Abu Dhabi (IFAD), in the first half of 2020 to host ADNOC’s flagship Murban crude grade.

“We want to give the industry Murban as a replacement for Brent crude futures,” Philippe Khoury, head of trading at ADNOC group, told an energy conference in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi.

“We still have to demonstrate that over time the community can trust the crude as a benchmark,” he added.

Oil majors BP, Total, Inpex, Vitol , Shell, Petrochina, Korea’s GS Caltex, Japan’s JXTG and Thailand’s PTT have agreed to become partners in the new exchange.

Vitol CEO Russel Hardy said that it will take time to build liquidity on the new exchange, and that Brent, a basket of different crude qualities, and US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) were very established.

“There is a great deal of different constituents playing in those markets. These things will take time to build up on the exchange here,” he said at the same panel discussion.

“It is right to have that level of ambition but it will take some time to build that level of liquidity,” he said of ADNOC’s plans for Murban.

The new contract will create an alternative benchmark to the most commonly used Middle East standard, the Dubai/Oman benchmark operated by the Dubai Mercantile Exchange (DME) and traded on CME’s electronic platform.

Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Petroleum Council last week approved the launch of a new pricing mechanism for Murban crude as part of ADNOC’s broader transformation strategy. It authorized the state energy firm to remove destination restrictions on Murban sales.

ADNOC plans to implement new Murban forward pricing between the second quarter and third quarter of 2020.

UAE Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said earlier on Tuesday that he saw no conflict between his country’s compliance with OPEC output cuts and plans to list Murban.

He said the UAE remained committed to cuts agreed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, plus allies led by Russia. These countries have since January implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) which lasts until March 2020, in an attempt to boost prices.

“I don’t think there is a conflict in floating Murban with the fact that UAE is going to comply with whatever we agree to with OPEC. I am not worried about that,” Mazrouei said.

Murban light crude output is around 1.6-1.7 million barrels per day. The UAE has traditionally sold oil directly to end-users, mainly in Asia, based on retroactive pricing rather than forward pricing used by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq.

The UAE, the third-largest OPEC producer behind Saudi Arabia and Iraq, pumps around 3 million bpd, produced mostly by ADNOC.