TRAVEL BUYERS WITH an interest in Iraq will have paid close attention to the handling of Baghdad’s Arab summit at the end of March. Iraq’s war-torn capital hosted 10 regional leaders and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon at the former Republican Palace in the city’s high-security Green Zone. While there has been speculation on what the meeting will achieve in the long term, there is no doubt that for Iraq it was a huge success. Prime minister Nuri al-Maliki said at the summit: “The Arabs came back to Baghdad, and Baghdad has returned to the Arab world.” The message is clear: Iraq is open for business.
SECURITY ISSUES However, Iraq is no easy place to do that business. The summit is estimated to have cost US$500 million and there were 100,000 security officers in
50 BACK IN BUSINESS
Travelling there can be treacherous, but the oil-rich country is increasingly opening up for trade. Felicity Cousins talks to the people who do business in Iraq
place, while delegates were escorted from the airport to the Green Zone in heavily armed convoys. Although the Americans left in December, the US embassy suffers frequent mortar attacks. This, however, is an improvement on the situation two years ago, as a UN official told Buying Business Travel: “We used to run our own aircraft to Oman and Jordan and then queue for a helicopter to fly us into the Green Zone, or we were taken to a camp where private security contractors would turn up in armoured buses – they would leave whenever they felt it was a good time, so you could be waiting around for hours.” For Iraq, UK visitors need a visa and a letter of authorisation before they arrive. Visas cost US$400 for a multiple entry 30-day visit, and another US$82 on arrival, but once you know the system it becomes a little easier. Tony Myers is managing director of
Copperchase, a UK company which recently secured a US$160m contract to build 3,000 low-cost housing units in the province of al-Najaf. “I fly into Dubai on Emirates and then take low-cost airlines into Najaf,” he says. “We are guided through immigration every time we come because they know us.” As with any duty-of-care, buyers need to prepare travellers and ensure secure systems and procedures are in place before travel. Specialist companies, such as International SOS, which has just opened its new London headquarters, and Rubicon Resolution have extensive local knowledge and offer pre-trip training, travel advice, secure transportation and debriefings. Another source of information
for anyone wanting to know more about Iraq are websites such as www.iraq-businessnews.com, which sources news locally with offices and agents in Amman, Baghdad, Basra and Erbil.
BE PREPARED However, with Austrian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Emirates, Qatar, Etihad (which began a new service to Basra in April) and more all flying into Iraq, there’s a danger of it all seeming a little too