Leisure and Tourism in Iraq

Saudi Arabia to Fund Iraqi Football Stadium

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has promised to build a football stadium in Iraq.

The news followed a friendly match between the two countries’ teams in Basra last week.

The Iraqi-Saudi Ministerial Coordination Council met on Monday to discuss the measures needed to improve cooperation in the economic, investment, cultural and other sectors.

(Sources: Asharq al-Awsat, Reuters)

“Severe Punishment” for Price Hikes Targeting Tourists

By John Lee.

Erbil’s mayor has reportedly warned hotel and motel operators against taking advantage of the increased numbers of tourists by driving up prices and breaking contracts:

Nabaz Abdulhamid told Rudaw:

“Any hotel or motel owner that hikes up the prices and revokes the signed contracts will be punished severely.”

In the past three days, 15,000 tourists from southern and central Iraq have travelled to Erbil.

More here.

(Source: Rudaw)

Conserving Iran and Iraq’s Wetlands

There’s growing awareness in the Islamic Republic of Iran that wetlands are valuable and sustain livelihoods.

Ramsar, “the gem of northern Iran”, is the town that gives its name to the Ramsar Convention.

The Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It came into force more than 40 years ago.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has 24 sites designated as wetlands of international importance (Ramsar sites) out of 2,290 worldwide. Of Iran’s 24 sites about one third are under pressure or in a critical condition.

Wetlands are vital for biodiversity. Large populations of migratory birds winter there or use them on their way to and from wintering areas in Africa or the Indian sub-continent.

The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. It includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been struggling to prevent its lakes and wetlands from drying up owing to extensive extraction of water by farmers for irrigation, growing extraction for non-agricultural uses, and climate change.

A telltale signal of vanishing wetlands is the increased frequency  and intensity of dust storms in Iran and across the region. The adverse situation has been compounded by 14 years of drought, according to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council.

Sand and dust storms, the advance guard of desertification, have been identified as one of the “emerging issues of environmental concern” in UN Environment’s latest Frontiers Report.

“The anthropogenic causes of sand and dust storms include deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices as well as excessive water extraction and the modification of water bodies for irrigation and other purposes,” says the report.

In the long term, only sustainable land and water management, integrated with measures addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation, can improve the situation.

Iran is trying to deal with the problem. Its National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan, Target 18, states: “By 2030, conservation and wise use of wetlands are strengthened and the situation for at least 50 per cent of degraded wetlands is improved.”

Lake Urmia

Lake Urmia, a Ramsar site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is a vast hypersaline lake with many islands, surrounded by extensive brackish marshes, in northeastern Iran. The lake is fed by rainfall, springs and streams and subject to seasonal variation in level and salinity. The brackish marshes are an important staging area for migratory waterbirds.

Around 6.4 million people and 200 species of birds live in the Urmia basin.

The lake ecosystem supports biodiversity and provides recreation and mental health benefits, as well as water for agriculture and industry. If the lake were to dry up completely, dust storms and disaster could result.

A study between 2002-2011 in the eastern sub-basin of Lake Urmia showed that agricultural activities, the expansion of farmland, and population increases over the last three decades led to the over-exploitation of resources, causing land degradation. The lake has been in decline since 1995. By August 2011, its surface area was only 2,366 km2, according to UN Environment. It further declined to 700km2 in 2013. NASA satellite data indicate that the lake lost about 70 percent of its surface area between 2002 and 2016.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is working with development partners and local communities to improve the situation. Engineering works have helped unblock and un-silt the feeder rivers, and there has been a deliberate release of water from dams in the surrounding hills. In September 2016 the Government of Iran and the Food and Agriculture Organization launched a four-year sustainable management project for the lake.

Recent indications are that the lake is recovering. The lake surface area is now 2,300 km2 (UN Development Programme, 2017). UN Environment’s November 2017 Foresight brief focuses on the extent of this recovery and measures being put in place to ensure this is sustained.

Hawizeh Marsh

In neighbouring Iraq, the Hawizeh Marsh, which extends across the border into Iran where it is known as Haur Al-Azim, was designated as the country’s first Ramsar site in 2007. Around 20-25 per cent of this wetland is in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Part of the Mesopotamian marshland complex fed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the whole region is suffering from the construction of upstream water control structures,  increasing water extraction for agriculture as well as reduced rainfall.. As a result, the Hawizeh marsh was placed on Ramsar’s register of threatened wetlands requiring priority attention.

In mid-2017, the Government of Iraq requested the Ramsar Secretariat to organize an advisory mission to the marshes to identify ways for future cooperation between Iraq and Iran as a first step towards the long-term conservation and sustainable development of the marshes, including ways to reduce the incidence of sand and dust storms.

The mission, which took place from 16 to 23 December 2017, involved  officials from  Iraq and Iran participating in workshops and conducting site visits on both sides of the border to better understand the situation. In cooperation with the Ramsar Secretariat, UN Environment is helping support the dialogue process which also includes consultations with local communities and participation of UN agencies.

Areas of agreed future cooperation include carrying out waterbird surveys,   creating a platform for exchanges of technical and scientific information on the ecology of the marshes, and joint celebration events on wetlands and water.

In a quick and positive step forward, a team of Iraqi bird experts joined Iranian surveyors in conducting a midwinter waterfowl count on the Iranian side of the marshes from 23-26 January 2018. Similarly, Iranian experts plan to collaborate in the waterfowl census in Iraq in early February 2018.

“Wetlands for a Sustainable Urban Future” is the theme for World Wetlands Day on 2 February 2018.

(Source: UN Environment)

NIC Announces 157 Major Strategic Projects in Iraq

By John Lee.

Iraq’s National Investment Commission (NIC) has just announced the list of major strategic projects to be presented during the Kuwait International Conference for Iraq Reconstruction, to be held in Kuwait from 12th to 14th February.

The 157 large- and medium-sized projects span all sectors of the Iraqi economy, including oil and gas, transport, housing, agriculture and education.

The full 46-page document can be downloaded here.

(Source: NIC)

Mövenpick Signs Basra Hotel Deal

Swiss-based Mövenpick has signed a deal to manage a five-star, 152-key hotel in Basra, Iraq”s economic capital and a regional oil and gas hub.

The Mövenpick Hotel Basra is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2018. Located in the center of Basra, within the commercial district of Al Baradi’yah and 25km west of Basra International Airport, the new property will help to fill a gap in the market for upscale hotels.

Olivier Chavy, President & CEO, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, said:

Basra is one of the Middle East”s fastest-growing economic centres, a major oil producer and is undergoing rapid infrastructure development, so the time is right for Mövenpick to cement its presence in this flourishing city.

“Our upcoming property will cater to pent-up demand from the corporate sector, which contributes around 90% of hotel demand in Basra due to the high volume of oil and gas and shipping companies based in this booming region of Iraq.

Amenities at the Mövenpick Hotel Basra will include one all-day dining and one specialty restaurant; an executive lounge and a lobby lounge; a meetings and events area featuring a 700-square metre ballroom, multi-functional hall and meeting room; an indoor swimming pool, gym, spa, and beauty salon; and a retail area.

Mr. Akeel Ibraheem Al-Khalidy, Chairman of the South Group Corporation and Chairman of the Committee on Economic Development and Investment, part of Basra Council, said,

“With tens of thousands of foreign workers and businessmen travelling in and out of Basra every day and thousands more based in the city, Mövenpick Hotel Basra will be well placed to provide them with high-quality business, dining and leisure facilities and accommodation that set new hospitality standards in this thriving area of Iraq.”

(Source: Movenpick)

Nightclubs, Cafes still Risky Business for Iraqi Women

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

The Iraqi parliament’s Committee on Women, Family and Childhood revealed Nov. 13 that there are organized criminals behind the work of some female minors in cafes and casinos. The committee said this phenomenon is no different from that of human trafficking.

The next day, an Iraqi radio station reported the story of a 17-year-old girl who works at a nightclub in Baghdad. “I have to work because I need money” to support herself and her mother, she said. “The owner of the club raped me more than once.” She also said she is subjected to beatings almost daily.

Another girl, however, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that some cafes and nightclubs operate aboveboard and provide desperately needed employment opportunities for young women. “I managed to work at a relative’s [place] because I needed money and the casino owner agreed to temporarily hire me for humanitarian reasons.”

Regardless of the situation, in conservative societies such as Iraq’s, girls and women who work at casinos, nightclubs and even coffee shops are often frowned upon.

Also, as women rarely get involved in this field of work, when they do it often draws media interest. One example is a woman from Nasiriyah who decided Jan. 20 to open a family coffee shop, the first of its kind in the south. The opening was widely covered by local media. Yet while this woman showed courage to embark on a nontraditional career path, other women have faced obstacles. On April 27, the Wasit Governorate Council voted by a majority to ban girls from working in cafes.

In Anbar, Liquor Shops are an Unlikely New Sign of Hope

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Even before the extremists were in control in Anbar, selling alcohol was banned. During extremist control, selling liquor was punishable by death. But now liquor stores have become a sign of freedom.

These days as you head into Karmah, one of the smaller cities in the central Anbar province, you may notice a small store on the way into town.

It’s not a big shop but its doors are wide open and it is selling alcohol. It is an unusual sight in this province, where conservative traditions and religious customs prevent the open sale and consumption of alcohol. But things have changed since the extremist group known as the Islamic State was in charge here.

“While we were displaced we lived in both Baghdad and in northern Iraq,” says Ahmad Abu Ali, a 44-year-old local; Karmah was part of the territory controlled by the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group and Abu Ali and his family fled their hometown. “And we used to see a lot of these shops there, close to where we lived. To us, it was an indication that these cities were safe and secure.”

“Although the drinking of alcohol is against our religion, the shop is a good sign. It is proof that the militants who once had such a big role in this city, and those who supported the militants, no longer play a part here,” Abu Ali explains. “Each person can practice their own religion. And when we saw this [the alcohol store] it gave us hope.”

Although Abu Ali doesn’t drink, his fellow townspeople who do are happy about the alcohol store for other, more obvious reasons.

“In the past we used to have to go to Baghdad to buy spirits,” Ibrahim Abdo, a 38-year-old local of Fallujah, told NIQASH. Abdo used to travel to the capital to buy enough alcohol to last a couple of weeks but he no longer has to do this. “We used to hide the bottles in the car so that the police and people at checkpoints wouldn’t harass us. They would destroy the drinks if they found them. Today I can just buy what I want even while the security forces are watching,” he says, somewhat incredulous.