In June, 2014, the instructions were clear: Stay away from Mosul. The city, Iraq’s second largest, had just been captured by the so-called Islamic State, whose fighters faced virtually no resistance in doing so. “Whoever has business in Mosul or Kirkuk no longer has a reason to be there,” the only Greek official in the region told Greek residents of Iraqi Kurdistan, who mainly comprised entrepreneurs in the construction and building materials trade.
Three years later, after nine months of siege, bombardment and fighting to take back Mosul street by street, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi officially declared victory. Once the fighting stopped, however, the scale of the destruction was shocking. Homes, streets and entire neighborhoods were in complete ruin.
A Greek businessman, who spoke to Kathimerini on the phone and asked that his name not be published for security reasons, was managing a quarry and a concrete production company in northern Iraq. He saw some of the freshly bombed-out areas of Mosul soon after they had been taken back from the jihadists. Despite the flight of many Greeks from the region in recent years, he decided to stay and is looking to the future while keeping a close eye on developments.
He transferred his operations to Iraqi Kurdistan four years ago, when the investment climate there was favorable. “Back then, seven out of 10 vehicles you would see on the road were concrete mixers and machinery,” he said. He brought seven Greeks with him to work as executives and hired locals as laborers. “We haven’t begun any construction projects in Mosul yet,” he said. The fight against ISIS has changed economic priorities in the region. Before the war, more than 100 Greek entrepreneurs were in Iraqi Kurdistan. That number has since shrunk to 30. They live and work in a radius of more than 80 kilometers from Mosul. Beyond entrepreneurs, these also include Greek women who have married Iraqis.
International relations analyst Dr Athanasios Manis, a resident of Erbil since October, 2014, recently returned to Greece. “While a restrictive economic environment remains, the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan is working to attract investment, particularly in the extraction of oil and natural gas,” he explained.
Though it’s not yet clear what a reconstructed Mosul will look like, or with what it will be built, the Greek businessman who spoke to Kathimerini has made contact with local officials. As a first step, the topic of whether or not construction equipment will be allowed in the area soon has been discussed. Before ISIS took Mosul, Greeks were among the professionals in the city engaged in the building materials trade.
Stavros Stavrakos, head of the Regional Office for Economic and Commercial Affairs of Greece in Erbil, says another Greek construction company will soon start operating in northern Iraq. On May 18, the second Iraqi-European Business and Investment Forum was held in Athens. Among the topics discussed there were investment opportunities and infrastructure projects in Iraq, while at the end of the conference there were private meetings between Greek and Iraqi entrepreneurs.
Iraq’s Minister of Planning Salman al-Jumaili estimated the country’s reconstruction costs after the end of the war will amount to $100 billion, and that it will take about 10 years. However, Dr Manis said that political developments are still a crucial factor, adding that the regional government in Erbil will hold a referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25.