It’s generally accepted that Iraq’s security situation is continually improving but has it improved to the point that it merits risking investment? More and more that really depends on where you are in the country and how you do business.
While there is no comparison between the security of the country today and that of even just 2 years ago, there is still violence and it is still an element that has to be taken into consideration for any business considering an investment or presence in Iraq. A combination of a more professional and better led Iraqi Security Force (IRF), the infusion of petro dollars, and the continuing investment of foreign companies has helped to bring services, jobs and consumer goods to the population which is essential to stabilizing the nation.
While insurgent groups still exist, most notably Al Qaeda, the number of security incidents has dramatically decreased and their nature has changed as well. Images burned into the world’s conscious of militia engaging in gunfights with security forces, IEDs blowing up tanks and indiscriminate bombings thankfully do not reflect the conditions that exist today.
A Change in Security Challenges
In a recent interview conducted by the Washington Institute, Dr. Michael Knights, Vice President of the international security firm The Olive Group, gave his opinion regarding the security situation within Iraq. Knights has been working in Iraq for nearly 30 years and brings an expert, hands on, boots on the ground assessment of that issue and how it affects the economy and the ordinary Iraqi citizen.
In Knight’s opinion the violence that remains in the country has no direct impact on the all-important gas and oil industry other than some security related expenses and delays. The everyday consumer economy is bustling. Shops and restaurants are doing a booming business. In most of Iraq people are comfortable being in the streets.
That doesn’t mean that violence has disappeared and the country is entirely safe, but today violence has become much more localized and it has changed in character as well.
To demonstrate his point Knight points to the city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. Today it experiences the highest number of reported acts of violence of any city, about 40 to 60 per month. Mosul is a city of 2 million spread out over an area 12 km x 12 km. The average Mosul resident will read or watch news about the attacks but will not actually see the events. There may be a trace of smoke on the horizon, debris on a highway but unless the resident is in the wrong place at the wrong time he will not have any direct contact with the violent acts.
Anyone who lived in Mosul in 2008 has experienced or seen firsthand what violence can do. The current comparatively “safe” environment allows for life and business to go on “normally” but the inconveniences of security precautions and the presence of the ISF wears on the average citizen. For them, security concerns are like a small nagging headache that simply won’t go away. It doesn’t stop everyday life but it is a constant strain on the nerves.
At the other end of the spectrum is the city of Kut located south of Bagdad. A city of 370,000 strung out on the banks of the Tigris, Kut rarely has any serious security incidents. There is an ISF presence but limits or inspection of movement is not imposed unless there is an alert declared caused by activity in surrounding communities. The security issues important to a citizen of Kut are much more in line with those of a European than with their fellow countrymen in Mosul.
Knight sums it up best with this statement. “For most Iraqis, insecurity is about inconvenience, frustration and the knowledge that there are things one must not risk, and places one must not go, and people one must not offend. This latter category resembles many people in post-conflict societies around the world and it comprises the majority of Iraqis.”
There is however, an exception to this post-conflict stress and that’s in the northeast in the area governed by The Kurdistan Regional Government. This semi-autonomous region has a population that consists almost exclusively of Kurds eliminating the sectarian conflict that exists in many parts of Iraq. The security issues that threaten Kurdistan consist principally of unexploded ordinance and mine fields from the Iraq – Iran War and from Sadamm’s own war on the Kurds.
A Mixed Review of the Government’s Managing of National Security
While the central government is the authority that provides the resources to combat terrorism and violence, it is also the cause of much of the sectarian friction that perpetuates it. Democracy is still a new concept for this country that has a long history of autocracy. While a certain amount of personal power was and is necessary to combat the remnants of the insurgency, that power has to be tempered with the belief that all Iraqi’s have an equal share in the country’s future.
Until the Administration finds an effective way to further integrate the Sunnis into the governance of the country and resolve the contentious relationship with the Kurds, there will continue to be friction between those two sects and the majority Shiites.
Other areas of concern in this Iraqi style democracy is the ability of government institutions such as the federal court system and the Iraqi Central Bank to carry out their responsibilities independent of influence from the governing Administration. National security is more than combatting insurgents. It involves the protection of personal rights, the delivery of essential services and ensuring the rule of law is inviolate. Iraq still has a significant distance to travel to meet these basic requirements.
At the end of the day
Security, its cost and impact on operations has to be a concern for any company contemplating a presence in Iraq. However, for organizations who are flexible, who understand the risks and have a plan to mitigate them, Iraq can represent a huge investment opportunity.
If you have questions or concerns regarding security issues in a given location, or the country as a whole, don’t hesitate to contact us for an informed opinion.