Sunday, March 25, 2012

Iraq Neighbours

Arab Summit to be held in Baghdad next week (2012). (previous photo of an Arab Summit)
Baghdad Invest - 25/03/2012 Baghdad.
The Coming Out: Can Iraq Finally Make Friends With Its Neighbors?

Next week, the Arab League will hold its annual summit in Baghdad. It is a day a great many Iraqis have long awaited. For years, Iraqis hoped to host the Arab League in their liberated capital as a sign to the world that Iraq was back--that it had reemerged from Saddam Hussein's tyranny and a brutal civil war as a new Iraq, stronger, freer, and better than it had been. And for years, the other Arab states denied it. They cited the violence, ethno-sectarian divisions, unsettled politics and the American occupation. Now, finally, Baghdad will get its due.

For Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki it is a great triumph, a tremendous opportunity and a grave threat all rolled into one.

Although many Iraqis long for this sign of reacceptance into the Arab world, it is especially important for Maliki that he be able to say that he fulfilled the dream. Maliki, of course, is a Shia--and not just a Shia but also a member of a Shiite Islamist party who has been personally disdained and excoriated by the Sunni Arab world for most of his time in office. Indeed, for many years, most of the other Arab states refused to resume normal relations with Iraq explicitly because he was its prime minister. Thus, for Maliki, the Arab League's willingness to come to Iraq under his premiership is an immense personal victory, a signal to the Iraqi people that he, personally, has been accepted by the other (Sunni) Arab heads of state as the rightful and respected leader of Iraq.

As a result, it is all the more imperative for him that the summit go well, both for Iraq and for him personally. If it goes well, not only will he buttress his sagging popularity with the Iraqi street, he also will likely be able to parlay it into improved trade relations with the rest of the region, more direct foreign investment from the wealthy Gulf states and greater Arab diplomatic support for Iraq's international causes--particularly the lifting of the last UN sanctions under which Iraq has labored since the days of Saddam. If Maliki is truly accepted by the other members of the Arab League, it could mean significant material benefits for Iraq that would further reinforce his popularity and power.

The Syrian Problem

Unfortunately for Maliki, that coin has two sides, and on the ugly underside is the head of Bashar al-Assad. The crisis over Syria is coming at the worst possible time for Maliki. As a Shia Arab, he seems to have considerable affinity for the Shiite Arab regime of the Assads in Damascus. Moreover, although Maliki distrusts and dislikes the Iranians, he is in no position to cross them, and the Iranians have been backing the Assads to the hilt. Iran wields very significant influence in Iraq and ultimately was responsible (with some American assistance) for forging the coalition that kept Maliki in power after the 2010 elections. Whenever the Sunni Arab states ostracized his government, it was Tehran that succored it, and Maliki likely believes that when all else fails, he can count on the Iranians to help him in a way that the Sunni Arab states probably never will. Not surprisingly, Iraq has been extremely forgiving of Damascus's sins and consistently opposed harsh measures intended to bring about the Syrian regime's downfall.

The problem for Maliki is that the Sunni Arab states appear to be coming to Baghdad with squeezing Syria at the top of their agenda. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and other key Arab states are determined to forge agreement on tough new measures to loosen Assad's grip on power and bolster the Syrian resistance. They mean to do this both because it is an increasingly critical issue for all of them, playing equally to their external strategic goals and their internal political fears, and because they want to suss out Maliki himself.

In recent weeks, Maliki has been tacking hard on Syria. He has lowered his rhetorical support for Damascus. He even supported a new Arab League proposal to deploy Arab peacekeeping forces there. In addition, Maliki has been busily striking bilateral deals, making important concessions to various Sunni Arab states in the run-up to the summit to ensure that it is not cancelled at the last minute, that Arab heads of state attend, and that Iraq is accepted warmly back into the fold. All of this, but particularly Maliki's change of course on Syria, has made the Sunni Arab states willing to go ahead with the summit and toss him some other important bones. For instance, the Saudis finally named an ambassador to Baghdad.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the Sunni Arab states are far from believing Maliki has actually changed his spots. Most believe he remains more committed to Iran and Syria than to the rest of the (Sunni) Arab world, and so they are likely to press the Syria issue and try to force Maliki to pick a side. They rightly see his dismissal of the charge that Iran is flying arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace as an effort to placate Iran and make up for his mildly more critical public stance on Syria. Thus, Maliki will have to walk a very narrow tightrope all through the summit to avoid being pushed by the Sunni Arab states or pulled by the Iranians to declare for one side or the other on this critical issue. In recent years, Maliki has shown himself to be a skillful political tactician, but appeasing both camps without alienating either will be quite a feat.

Many Potential Dangers

In Iraq, internal and external politics are deeply intertwined. Any problems created for Maliki at the Arab Summit will not remain confined to Iraq's international relations. They will quickly infect its fissiparous domestic politics and that will have very real consequences for Maliki.
If he resists Arab League action on Syria too much, Maliki will convince the Sunni Arab states that he was an Iranian agent all along, and they will almost certainly begin to ramp up their support for the Iraqi Sunni communities of Anbar, Salahaddin, Ninevah and Diyala seeking autonomous regional status--de facto independence--and willing to employ force against Maliki's central government to do it.

On the other hand, if Maliki is overly solicitous of the Sunni Arabs and goes along with new punitive measures against Syria, he could infuriate the Iranians, who can then press the Sadrists and a variety of Shiite terrorist groups to do the same in southern Iraq. The Iranians can also exert pressure on certain Kurdish factions to be less cooperative with Baghdad and can encourage Shiite separatists in Basra and other southern provinces to make more trouble for the prime minister.

In Iraq, there is never a dull moment. And watching Prime Minister Maliki walk the line at the Arab Summit might be, for a few days next week, the greatest show on earth.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Cars for sale Iraq

Baghdad Invest - 19/03/2012 12:23 G.M.T Baghdad.

Iraqis Can’t Wait to Buy Dodge Obamas With Market Revival: Cars

Damiaa Saadi likes taking her friends out for an evening on the town in her new Kia (00270) Sportage. The fact that she can do that in Baghdad is a sign that life in Iraq is gradually emerging from the wreckage of war.
“It makes me feel happy to drive my own car, even with the traffic,” said the 37-year-old government employee, who bought her first car this year. “Sometimes I pick up my friends and we go for a meal or some ice cream in one of Iraq’s posh areas.”
Rising incomes and declining violence is fueling demand for a middle-class lifestyle that includes autos after years of conflict following the U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. One of the popular models is Chrysler Group LLC’s Dodge Charger, nicknamed “Obama” after the U.S. president by Iraqis.
Cars have always been powerful emblems of a society. A small rush of international automakers into Iraq, along with rising sales, are signs of optimism amid continuing violence and political strains.
The country’s economy, boosted by oil revenues and foreign investment, will probably grow faster than 10 percent this year, outpacing all other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, said Philippe Dauba-Pantanacce, a Dubai-based economist at Standard Chartered Bank. Higher incomes are generally accompanied by greater spending on durable goods such as automobiles, he said.
Backed by the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves and a population bigger than Saudi Arabia’s, Iraq is attracting the attention of global automakers like General Motors Co. (GM), Ford Motor Co. (F) and Volkswagen AG (VOW3). Western cars had been shut out of the market by sanctions during the Saddam era.
The lack of modern vehicles is evident in the survival of many VW Passats that were shipped to Iraq from Brazil between 1983 and 1990 in exchange for oil.

Upwardly Mobile

The growth is underpinned by safer streets. Around 1,500 Iraqi civilians were killed by bombs, sniper ambushes and other attacks last year, according to the Brookings Institute’s Iraq index. While that’s a high loss of life, it’s the lowest figure since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, when deaths totaled 7,300. Civilian fatalities peaked at 34,500 in 2006.
The economic benefits of Iraq’s revival are palpable for people like Sarmad Khalid. Buoyed by the access to new vehicles and a minimum wage that’s risen to around $400 a month from the equivalent of $2.60 in Saddam’s era, the 54-year-old got a chance at a new start.

Potential for VW

The former government worker bought a Samand, a sedan manufactured by Iran Khodro Co. that’s popular among Iraqis. He now works as a taxi driver after scraping together an existence with work at a relative’s grocery store and as a teller in a currency exchange since 2003.
“I can now make a living and feed my family of three kids and a wife, after losing my job following the invasion,” said Khalid.
With a population of more than 30 million people and a growing economy, Iraq’s auto market has “huge potential,” said Stefan Mecha, VW’s managing director for the Middle East, projecting industrywide sales to rise by a third this year to 120,000 vehicles. Demand could get much bigger.
In neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has a population slightly smaller than Iraq’s, there are about 6.5 million registered cars, according to IHS Automotive. That’s about five times the 1.35 million vehicles in Iraq, according to Hamid Algharbawi, owner of a high-end car dealership in Baghdad. Official data aren’t available.

GM Investment

Iraq holds “a lot of promise,” said Larry Prein, Ford’s managing director for the Middle East. The Dearborn, Michigan-based manufacturer expects sales to double this year after tripling to 2,000 in 2011.
Niva Car Ltd., Ford’s dealer in Iraq, plans to invest $200 million over the next three years to open new outlets to tap the rising demand, said Mohammad Fuad Alanaswah, the dealer’s chief.
“It’s a tough market to be in, but it is growing,” said Alanaswah. “We believe in our market. That’s why we are expanding.”
GM plans to invest in new showrooms and service centers in Iraq after initially entering the market in 2003 by selling to the government, U.S. forces and aid organizations, said John Stadwick, head of GM’s Middle East operations. Last year, GM’s sales surged 68 percent to 32,000 cars, making Iraq its second-largest market in the region after Saudi Arabia.
Still, poverty and security remain hurdles to further expansion. Iraq’s economy will probably grow to the equivalent of $3,528 per person this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares with $20,214 in Saudi Arabia. Joblessness is also probably close to 40 percent, according to the World Bank, more than three times the official unemployment rate of 11 percent. In addition, violence that claimed an average of 29 lives a week last year has left its mark.
“Life stops in most neighborhoods before 11 p.m. and shops and restaurants close early because of security fears,” said new car owner Saadi.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Arab Summit Baghdad 2012

Baghdad Invest - 12/03/2012 23:10 G.M.T Baghdad.

Iraq has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a bid to ensure the upcoming Arab Summit in Baghdad on March 29 is a success but analysts believe their efforts may lead to naught.

“There won’t be any high-profile attendance at the Arab Summit in Baghdad,” said Ali al-Zakari, a UAE-based political analyst, citing division amid an Arab Spring-hit region as the reason.

“It is expected that no important decisions will be made towards countries like Syria or Somalia,” Zakari added.

Late February, the conference of “Friends of Syria” did not lead to any consensus among Arab countries; Tunisia pressed for stricter sanctions against the government of Bashar al-Assad but not for military intervention, while Gulf countries who support military intervention in Syria, seem to be leading calls for the arming of the Syrian opposition.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned that toppling the Assad regime could result in the rise of Islamists in Syria, henceforth dire consequences to be expected in Iraq that is already suffering from al-Qaeda. Because Syria was expelled from most Arab nations, as well as suspended from the Arab League for its refusal to halt its crackdown on protestors, it was not invited to the Baghdad meet.

“The only way for the summit to be successful is if high-profile figures come together to send a strong message to Iran, but the current mood is not for escalation [of tension],” Zakari added.

On Wednesday, Iraq’s deputy foreign minister announced that that U.N. Secretary-General Ban-ki Moon will attend the upcoming summit, but analysts are skeptical about that.

“Attendance of Ban-ki moon or other representatives of certain organizations will be as mere observers.”

Meanwhile, a Jordan-based political analyst who wished to remain anonymous said that Baghdad’s announcement of Ban’s attendance is an attempt to show that the meet will have “international” attendance. The analyst said that with or without high-ranking officials’ attendance, Ban is there to make use of the event to talk about international issues related to Iraq such as Camp Ashraf, a camp that houses members of the anti-Iranian group, People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran.

Iraq’s deep division

Apart from the divisions with the Arab nations, Iraq’s political schism and Iran’s influence in its politics threaten to make the summit ineffective, said the Jordan-based analyst.

“If Iraqis do not reconcile, the representation of Arab states will be at a ministerial and ambassadorial level … and this depends wholeheartedly on Iraq,” he said.

The Gulf countries had, after all, demanded Iraq’s divisive factions to put their problems aside and work towards creating a solid national partnership government and oppose the one party domination that is Maliki’s State of Law coalition. Gulf States see Maliki’s coalition as an ally to Iran so they are hesitant to have its highest-ranks officials attend the summit unless Iraq fulfills the precondition of a partnership government, the analyst said.

Ground realities, however, show that the divisions run deep and pose incredible challenges to governance.

There was ambiguity on whether Maliki or the Iraqi President Jalal Talabani who, according to the country’s constitution, must represent Iraq at the upcoming summit.

Rumors that Talbani may not even be at the summit were rubbished by a source who told the London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper that while the president is going to the U.S. for medical reasons, he is expected to return on March 12, rebuffing critics that there is an Iranian pressure to make the president hand over responsibility to Tehran’s ally Maliki to head the summit.

Other Iraqi factions also do not wish to see Maliki’s coalition succeed.

The secular yet Sunni-backed Iraqiya List headed by Ayad Allawi who is currently in Turkey, is lobbying against the summit. Iraqiya List says that Iraq is not ready to host the Arab Summit in Baghdad as the country’s politicians are divided and won’t represent the country under one voice which in turn will weaken the country’s position.

According to the Jordan-based analyst, Maliki’s making the summit successful will mean that his faction has won over against others and that an Iran-ally bloc has finally won the acceptance of the Arabs.

Another Jordan-based analyst, Ahmed al-Abyadh, said that a successful Arab Summit in Iraq should be seen as an achievement for all Iraqis, and Iraqiya is short-sighted in not wanting the summit to be an effective one.

Abyadh said the constant prodding by Gulf states demanding Iraq end its political division is an intervention into the country’s affairs.

Iraq, a founding member of the Arab League, has not hosted a regular Arab summit since November 1978, but an extraordinary summit was held in Baghdad in May 1990, just months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq which has spent at least $450 million in preparation for the summit that was supposed to be held on March 29 last year has recently received 400 Chevrolet armored vehicles to transport senior foreign officials. It has been criticized by sections of the public for wasting money that is badly needed to build the country’s infrastructure on a summit.

Iraq has also prepared itself diplomatically. Iraq and Saudi Arabia saw closer ties as the Kingdom named an ambassador to Iraq for the first time since Kuwait’s invasion. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said that Iraq has also compensated Kuwait $4 billion in 2011.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Hotel Investment Karbala

Baghdad Invest - 08/03/2012 20:15 G.M.T Baghdad.

Fancy buying some timeshare with a twist? How about timeshare in Iraq?
Timeshares in Iraq may seem an unlikely proposition but for one developer in Dubai, that model has helped to fund a five-star hotel project it is building in Karbala.

Range Hospitality, which is developing the US$100 million (Dh367.3m) hotel to cater to demand for accommodation from pilgrims travelling to the city, is hoping to complete the property by the end of next year, having raised funds from buyers within the Gulf region and globally, it said.

"We went for the timeshare model because, from the outset, we knew it wouldn't be possible to get funding from banks," said Munaf Ali, Range Hospitality's chief executive.

"Because of the difficult environment - what the world was experiencing - obviously a bank could not lend you a very large amount to build a hotel, especially in a country like Iraq," he said.

"Although we perceive it to be low risk, not everyone agrees with us."

Timeshare and "fractional ownership" - owners taking a percentage share of the same asset - have garnered a poor reputation in Europe and the US in the past, as some unscrupulous developers exploited buyers.

But Mr Ali said that by focusing on pilgrims rather than holidaymakers, there was inbuilt demand. Karbala is home to two of Shia Islam's holiest shrines.

"Timeshare didn't work very well in Europe when it came to holiday destinations because Spain can be in fashion one year and then it goes out of fashion and people want to go to a different country. But a religious destination never goes out of fashion. When economic times are good, people go;
when economic times are bad, people still go."

The money raised from the timeshare sales is going through an escrow account with Standard Chartered, he said.

"We managed to sell a significant portion of the building, which meant construction is fully funded now." He declined to say how many timeshares had been sold.

The prices begin at $6,350 for ownership of a studio in the property for one week in the low season for a 50-year period, Range said. A two-bedroom flat for a week a year for 50 years during high seasons costs up to $68,000.

The hotel has 624 suites and rooms. Foundations are nearing completion and work is about to start on the superstructure of the hotel, Mr Ali said. The property is to be managed by Shaza Hotels, a joint venture between Kempinski Hotels and Guidance Hotel Investment Company, based in Paris.

Travel accommodation revenues in Iraq reached $489.3m last year, up from $475.5m the previous year, according to figures from Euro-monitor International. Its data also shows that religious tourism has grown in Iraq.

"As soon as the old regime ended, Shiite travellers were able to practise their faith in two holy Shiite cities, Najaf and Karbala; these two continue to welcome many Shiite arrivals every year, mainly from Iran and Lebanon," a Euromonitor report said.

International hotel operators have increasingly looked to opportunities in Iraq, but they remain wary.
Most of the focus has been on Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is considered more stable.

But Abu Dhabi's Rotana Hotels has a property under development in Baghdad, and Millennium and Copthorne Hotels also has projects in southern Iraq.

Airlines have also expanded their operation in the country. Last week, Etihad announced plans to launch flights to Basra next month. Emirates Airline and the budget carrier flydubai have also increased their flights into Iraq this year.

The Proposition
  • Shariah compliant fractional ownership in Karbala by specific unit for for specific time period
  • First five star hospitality complex in Karbala
  • Fully serviced and fully furnished suites
Investment Security
  • Escrow account with Standard Chartered Bank
  • Construction fully funded
  • Shaza Hotels appointed as the hotel operator assuring five star service adding value to your investment
Investment Returns
  • Greater returns due to first mover advantage
  • Costing as low as US$ 5 per bed per night
  • 3 to 5 years payback period
  • Highly granular investment structure for retail proposition
  • Attractive payment plan
Flexibility and Accessibility
  • Transferable ownership
  • Potential capital gain through resale in the secondary market
  • Option to swap the periods, seasons and units based on availability through the Range Exchange Program
The prices begin at $6,350 - Find out more by visiting the website here:

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