By Robert Tollast.
Robert Tollast is a consultant at Noorbridge, a Helsinki based consultancy with staff in London and Nasiriyah, Iraq. He has written extensively on security, politics and economic issues in Iraq for various publications, and is currently researching a modern history of Iraq with support from The Middle East Forum. email: [email protected] twitter: @roberttollast
As Iraqi troops continue to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Fallujah and Ramadi, a different kind of battle is brewing 350 miles to the southeast, one that could prove just as decisive for Iraq’s future. In Basra this year, the province has more cause for more hope than in previous years. Here’s why.
The dawn of strategy
At the end of 2012, Colin Freeman reported a story in The Telegraph that made for depressing reading: Britain was closing its consulate in Basra, just as the province was experiencing a surge in foreign investment from all over the world.
Last month I spoke to a former British diplomat and asked him why this was, and he remarked that security costs- around £6m per year, were the equivalent to several embassies. But that wasn’t the only thing keeping the British away.
Another factor that has often deterred foreign investors is of course bureaucracy and the difficulty of getting your business on the ground because of Iraq’s fondness for red tape. Discouraging contractual terms offered to investors have put a stop to many potential ventures, as someone with years of experience in the country recently told me, “Iraq is good at killing the goose before it lays the golden eggs.”
But things might be about to change. Last week, Freeman published another story in The Telegraph reporting that Basra governor Nasrawi had hired the British firm Aegis Defence Services to institutionalise the latest counter-terrorism practices for the province.
Governor Nasrawi (from the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq) seems to understand what counter-terrorism involves, remarking in a recent al-Monitor interview that CT was not primarily a conventional military task. The fact that he has invited a British general who was involved in the invasion is certainly an interesting story.
But Nasrawi (elected last April) is also keen to make progress in other areas. He recently hired American firm Hill International on a long term contract to oversee strategic planning and contracts with foreign companies. As he asserted in the al-Monitor interview, Nasrawi appeared determined that Basra was going to beat corruption, short termism and develop a strategy. Out with four year plans, and in with long term goals.