As an Iraq security analyst I often find that I am writing at length about violence, pain and causes for concern. However, for this blog entry I would like to make what I hope is a welcome exception.
I regularly write about how violence has escalated in the north of Iraq, usually in relation to the cities of Kirkuk and Mosul. I occasionally write that conditions have been quiet in Kurdistan, but I don't often dwell on it. For me, it is obvious. Kurdistan is arguably as safe as a European country, and statistically speaking it sees fewer terrorist attacks than its neighbour (and popular tourist destination) Turkey. As a result I normally have very little to report on.
However, at a recent Kurdistan trade event in Edinburgh I was reminded that this perception is not widely understood amongst many would-be investors. Kurdistan is regarded as being just as risky as the rest of the country, and strategic decisions are made on that basis. From a regional level this is an unfair burden for the three Kurdish administered provinces - Arbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah - referred to casually as 'the other Iraq'. From a business perspective, companies are also losing out on huge investment potential by overlooking these three stable and oil-rich provinces.
So what role does a security company have in such a region? Firstly, my job is to advise, so I spend much of my time convincing travellers that the situation is indeed safe enough to do business. While AKE assigns Iraq with a negative security risk rating we rate the Kurdish region separately - at a much lower and more positive rating. Some firms continue to use armed security and armoured convoys when travelling around the region. While some may do this for the purpose of prestige some may also have grossly over-estimated the operating risks of the region. Either way, such measures are often expensive and unnecessary.
Travel safety and awareness training is still recommended for personnel working in the region. While conditions are safe terrorists have nonetheless made occasional attempts to infiltrate the region. Road conditions and medical facilities can also be poor in some areas beyond the main towns. A basic awareness of medical knowledge and stabilising treatment can be useful in the event of a road traffic accident somewhere in the mountains, for example.
However, such conditions could apply in many parts of the world and Kurdistan is certainly no exception. There are areas not so many miles from Edinburgh subjected to very similar conditions – indeed coming from the Hebrides I feel I am qualified to vouch for this.
John Drake is a senior risk consultant with AKE, a British private security firm working in Iraq from before 2003. Further details on the company can be found here while AKE’s intelligence and political risk website Global IntAKE can be accessed here.