Basra’s Next Battle: Defeating Corruption and Bureaucracy

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.

14 Responses to Basra’s Next Battle: Defeating Corruption and Bureaucracy

  1. Mike 9th January 2014 at 12:41 #

    Bureaucracy & red tape.... Jeez I hope they really mean what they're saying in Basrah... in Baghdad just walked out of the Oil Ministry earlier today and the set-up there is a joke... it's literally a set-up for failure.. Try proposing an investment project in Iraq's oil & gas sector and you'll be aiming for Kurdistan very shortly after doing a few laps on the oil ministry's red tape racket..!!

  2. Raj 10th January 2014 at 05:44 #

    Instead of Samir, you should get candid comments from international companies executing projects in Basra. First, the bureaucracy and red tape will kill the project and, if that is not enough, the inconsistency between protestations / promises and actual action will. And, if even that is not enough, constantly changing stands on every issue will complete the job.
    How many foreign companies have actually been able to complete a contract within the original time limit and how many have finally abandoned their contracts altogether, cut their losses and walked away? It would be interesting to see, if there is any way to get these statistics together.
    Why is it that Basra is unable to utilise it's budgets fully, year after year?
    Basra has great potential. What a pity that the resources are not being properly utilised to better the lot of it's people.

  3. Mike 10th January 2014 at 09:18 #

    True - And even friends from Basrah would agree: What a dump yard to be living on, yet ironically the primary source for Iraq's crude exports.. Opec's 2nd largest nation !!

  4. Ahmad 15th January 2014 at 08:06 #

    Visited Basra for the oil and gas exhibition in December 2013. Was last there 30 years ago. Looked better then. But at least the people have maintained their good cheer and hospitable nature. for a visual journey, visit