Duhok is the third city of the Kurdistan region of Iraq and keeps emerging over the years despite the challenges it has faced. What are the main competitive advantages of your province compared to the other one in Kurdistan?
The population of Duhok is about 1.4 million people, a figure that goes up to 2 million taking into consideration the IDPs and refugees, in a governorate that is almost the size of Lebanon. In terms of competitive advantages to the other Governorate in the Kurdistan Region, our geographical location makes us the gateway for business with the rest of the world, including Turkey Iran and Syria. In addition, thanks to our long border with Turkey, the trade with this country is about 8 to 10 billion US dollars per year.
Our second competitive advantage to attract investment is the potential of the agriculture industry. This area is really rich in terms of water resources with rivers, valleys, a good rate of raining in winter and very good plains with a perfect land for wheat, apples, and many other agricultural products.
Finally, our third strength is tourism. Our landscape and geography is one of the most beautiful in the region there are opportunities to be developed in terms of religious tourism, as the main center for Yazidis in the world is in Duhok and we have sacred places for Christians and other religions.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has been facing security challenges over the last two years. However, during his speech, last 1st of May, Prime Minister Barzani expressed that “war and terrorism have been pushed away from the Kurdistan Region, and the Region has embarked on a new era, the post-ISIS era. As a result, the current administration is determined to promote tourism and agriculture in order to diversify the current oil and gas dependent economy. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for foreign investment in your province?
Oil and gas are still the largest sources of revenues for Duhok, so it is at the same time the most develop industry that presents the less priority in terms of investment. If I mentioned other three main competitive advantages is because Duhok has the potential to be a dry port for the rest of the world, transporting goods from India or Iran to Turkey and Europe through our region. We can develop infrastructures such as train railways, duty frees areas or free zone areas for trade and business. The only way Iraq has to Turkey is through Duhok, so there is a lot of investment to do in terms of infrastructure for the sake of a better trade. The rest of the world would even have a better way to the Gulf countries, India and China.
Regarding the tourism sector, we also have projects but we suffer a lack of finance. For instance, we have an exciting master plan for complexes that include hotels, restaurants, relaxation facilities etc. The problems of the last two years with the fight against terrorism, the humanitarian crisis and the lack of budget from Baghdad have damaged the projects of infrastructure, and now we are looking for local and foreign investors to reactivate them. In this regards, tourism and infrastructure are priority areas of action as they entail great opportunities for the future of Duhok.
Around 53% of the direct foreign investment in the Kurdistan Region comes from the United Arab Emirates, followed by Lebanon and Turkey. However, after the agreement reached between the KRG and Rosfnet, the Russian oil company, Kurdistan is in the international spotlight. From which countries would you like to attract more foreign investment?
Investment is highly positive regardless the country that it comes from, and our main responsibility is to ensure the regulations that attract investors. Even though our geographic situation with a long border with Turkey and the good relationship between us facilitates business with this country, but our aim is to make Duhok attractive to any international investment.
In 2016 you launched a two-year provincial development strategy supported by the EU and UNDP seeking progress in six areas to respond to the needs of the people of Duhok. What are the particularities of this plan?
It was rather a theoretical study and research in partnership with the UE and the UNDP, who helped us to plan the future of Duhok, but in practical terms, there was not a significant monetary investment. The aim was to identify the key areas for the future of Duhok and to design a strategy for the further development of the region based on good governance, effective administration and other areas such as environment or green energy.
Duhok has the potential to become a gateway into the region and you are working to position the Governorate as a reference for business. What is your vision for Duhok in the near future?
Duhok is one of the richest governorates in Kurdistan and Iraq in terms of natural resources; between 35% and 40% of the oil production in Kurdistan comes from this area, and the production is due to increase in the near future.
The goal of our government is to develop Duhok as an industrial and trade zone of reference in Kurdistan and the wider region. We have one of the main borders with Turkey and Syria, which makes us the gateway to an area that includes Iraq, Kurdistan and Syrian regions. Even in case of independence of the Kurdistan Region, the Duhok Governorate has the potential to be a great commercial partner with Iraq.
With the recent crisis that your region has faced, you have implemented a Board of Relief and Humanitarian affairs aiming at providing assistance to refugees. What do you feel most proud of since you were elected as Governor?
I am proud of all the work of this administration that has allowed us to overcome immense challenges with the support of the people of Duhok. I took office the 12ve of June of 2014. Two days before the ISIS had taken over Mosul and the budget from Baghdad had been cut off. With the Turkish border closed, the crisis forced 700.000 IDP and refugees to seek asylum in our Governorate in a few months.
In September 2014, as a response to this humanitarian crisis, we gave shelter to more than 130.000 refugees in our schools. However, in less than 90 days we were able to transfer those entire people into new camps. With few resources and no budget, we have been able to build 27 camps in total, more than 50% of the total in Iraq, taking care of 700.000 refugees from different regions, ethnicities and religions.
In addition, we have not faced a single security problem in the last three years in terms of terrorism, and with the collaboration of our citizens, we have handled the crisis in the best way possible. I am proud of the support that we have provided to people in need, and the international community was also impressed by these achievements.
HBR Readers include the top decision makers and business leaders around the world. What is the final message that you would like to transmit to our readers about the future of Duhok?
In order to provide long-term security and stability, it is key to ensure the economic development and prosperity of the societies. Poverty is the root of many conflicts between people and, unfortunately, the last 35 years in the history of Iraq have been marked by violence and instability. If
If the world wants to see a stable Middle East, Iraq, and Kurdistan it is paramount to strengthen the local economy, which is a matter of building up economic institutions, business networks and a strong private sector rather than military interaction, political discussion or aid support.