IRAQ: Closure of Iranian border affects Kurdistan region’s economy
Aid agencies in the northern semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan have said the continuing closure of Iraq’s border with Iran will not hamper their work as they do not use the Iranian border for getting supplies.
However, Azad Ahmed, a 45-year old pharmacist in Sulaimaniyah, said that although medicines are imported from neighbouring countries other than Iran some critical items do come from Iran as well.
“There are a lot of items which come from Turkey, Jordan and Syria but we have some important medical items which are imported from Iran such as painkillers, syringes, cough syrup and optic medicines,” Ahmed said.
“We have not seen any shortages so far as stores are still well stocked, but I think if this situation [the border closure] continues for another month, then we’ll see acute shortages,” Ahmed added.
On 24 September Iran closed five border crossings with northeastern Iraq to protest against the US detention of an Iranian official whom the US military accused of weapons smuggling. Other Iran-Iraq border crossings are still open.
The measure has affected Kurdistan’s economy, leaving travellers and cargo stranded, officials and local people said on 27 September.
“Nearly 35,000 people – truck drivers, workers and traders – are now deprived of work due to the closure and hundreds of trucks are stranded at the border, some of them with goods which can’t stay fresh for long, like vegetables, fruit and dairy products,” said Hassan Baqi, head of Sulaimaniyah Chamber of Commerce.
“The commercial sector… especially in Sulaimaniyah, has been particularly affected over the past three days as up to 60 percent of consumer items come from Iran, and there are over 80 Iranian trading companies operating in the region,” Baqi added.
Since 24 September the prices of imported goods like vegetables, fruit, dairy products, potatoes and construction and industrial materials have risen sharply.
“I came to the market to buy five items: bananas, apples, watermelons, melons and oranges, but could buy only three as the prices had gone up by at least 500 Iraqi dinars (about 50 US cents) a kilogramme,” said Sazan Mohammed, a 35-year old employee at the city’s electricity directorate and a mother of five.
“If things go on like this, we will definitely, as employees, not be able to find anything to feed our children,” said Sazan at Sulaimaniyah main market. ”These are political things, why are we involved? Civilians have nothing to do with such things.”
Traders consider options
As hope of reopening the border crossing faded, Rashid Qadir, a 58-year-old dairy merchant, was thinking of sending his goods to another border crossing outside Kurdistan.
“I have 17 tonnes of dairy products in two trucks stranded at the border right now and 30 more tonnes at factories,” said Qadir, who with his three brothers, runs one of Sulaimaniyah’s wholesale stores.
“I have to find a way to get these goods in Kurdistan otherwise I will lose out, and of course the prices of these goods will go up,” he said.
According to Rustom Ahmed at the Bashmakh border crossing, the daily average number of trucks crossing this border used to be about 200. “Now the trucks are lined up on the Iranian side, the travellers have vanished and the workers have no work,” Ahmed said.
The arrested Iranian official has been identified as Mahmudi Farhadi and was arrested on 20 September in a raid on a hotel in Sulaimaniyah.
US officials said Farhadi was a member of the elite `Quds’ force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that smuggles weapons into Iraq. But Iraqi and Iranian leaders said he was in the country on official business and with the full knowledge of the Iraqi government.