RT: Baroness Nicholson has pointed out that 6 million pounds a year is tiny compared to the potential for new business. Are you in touch with foreign consulates in Basra, the Americans and the Turks?
Samir: Yes, I meet two or three times with the consulates, even the ambassadors come to Basra and I talk with them. Even smaller countries are getting a consulate now. Belgium are thinking of opening a consulate in Basra. I met the British consul in Erbil, and he was agreeing with me about the closing of the consulate in Basra. Anyway, I talked with the UKTI, they are trying to do something by opening a visa application centre in Basra. This will help as well.
RT: What’s the logistical advantage of being in Basra?
Samir: Basra is the second city in Iraq, the only ports are in Basra and the oil is there. In terms of getting new equipment, material and parts, is it very easy. The market in southern Iraq has plenty of whatever you need. Then the question of quality comes into it. And it depends on the quality you want, which varies a lot from the best to the worst--normally when I need something, I can get good quality from the Gulf, from Dubai or Kuwait.
RT: How many foreigners do you see now, compared to 5, 10 years ago. There are companies from all over the world in Basra.
Samir: Yes, but the current construction, for example of hotels, this is nothing compared to the requirements of Basra, unless you count infrastructure work by the IOCs who are working for production of oil and increasing production capacity. And this is different altogether, but in terms of improving infrastructure, you say its one or two hotels, we need tens of hotels in Basra. Last time in December when we had this oil and gas conference, people couldn’t find a hotel and the price of the hotel went from $300 to $1700.
RT: So the potential is huge, but the capacity needed to meet that potential is not enough.
Samir: Yes, and I remember when I was young, we used to have BP and Shell, at the time they were doing very good things for Basra, from the 1930s up until nationalization in 1972, they were building roads, clinics, schools. These days, Shell do a bit here and there, and the area where they are doing their work.
We expected a lot, they are doing a good job on the oil production side but unfortunately, for infrastructure they are doing very little. And at that time, I remember they had scholarships, sending students abroad to the UK. I was one of those scholars, I studied in 1958 in Birmingham and they funded it. So we expect to do a lot of such things training of people, post graduate training and recruitment. That’s how they can improve. But now they only bring people from outside Iraq.
RT: How do you feel about the future generation of Iraqis from Basra.
Samir: If we are going on the same track now, taking people from outside Iraq to work in the oil fields or even in the government, the future of young Iraqis will be very dull and hopeless. We should encourage them, send them for training and recruit them. Now, I know they have little experience, but bringing people in from outside is not the right way. Iraqis need to work to improve their country.
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