(Back) Into Iraq? Ummm . . . You First!

Remember back last winter, when a big fuss hit over the Pentagon announcing a policy prohibiting the awarding of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to states which hadn’t been active participants in the Coalition? (€S covered the reaction in both Germany and France.) It sure seemed a good idea then to be among the “ins” rather then the “outs” and so to look forward to the awarding of juicy reconstruction contracts to firms from out of your country.

Well, first of all doubts set in early – particularly in the Polish press – as to whether the Pentagon was really willing to steer those contracts to any other than American firms, with maybe the occasional British company thrown in. Of course, with the transfer-of-sovereignty last month, now it’s supposed to be the Iraqis themselves in charge of such decisions. But things have instead reached a stage where commercial calculations have taken another turn entirely. For instance, those in the transport business might be interested to know of a contract for trucking services that might be coming up for tender soon. The present holder, the Kuwait and Gulf Link Transport Company, is under a bit of pressure – seven of its drivers were abducted in one day, last Wednesday, and are now being held hostage, under the threat of being beheaded, by Islamic militants!

Anyone interested in stepping up? I thought not. Now the commercial benefits of being among the Coalition “ins” maybe don’t seem so attractive after all. That goes for Denmark, too, and Berlingske Tidende has a recent article on this subject: Danish Firms Hold Back From Iraq. A sample: Danfoss (a leading refrigeration firm, and Allah knows that they need refrigeration in Iraq): No plans to establish a presence there. AEC (sewage treatment, and Allah can surely smell even from his high heaven how they need new sewage treatment facilities in Iraq): Company spokesman Jan Hyttel tells Berlingske Tidende that no AEC employees want to go to Iraq, and furthermore “it would also be nonsense to send Danes in there now.” Shields (a security firm – need I say more?): Partner Jesper Lundsgaard says they’ve got no customers there (one has to imagine because they haven’t looked for any). For what it’s worth, Lundsgaard adds that, in his professional estimation, Iraq currently rates from an 8 to a 10 on the ten-point security scale – where 10 is most-dangerous. Finally, Danish ambassador to Iraq Torben Getterman (who is located there: on-site location is basically his job, but he’s probably well-protected and -paid) says that that’s all too bad, since Iraqi infrastructure remains in ruins – e.g. “the electricity comes and goes as the wind blows” – and Danish companies certainly have the know-how for the rebuilding that needs to be done. But not with the security situation as it is now.

TUG-OF-WAR OVER IRAQI REFUGEES

A parallel article in Politiken treats another group of Danish residents who you might expect would ordinarily be thinking about going to Iraq – going back to Iraq, to be more precise, since we’re speaking here of Iraqi refugees. Interestingly, this Politiken article is not really about the attitudes on this question of Iraqis presently in Denmark (but don’t worry, we’ll get to that) as it is instead about those of various authorities and public bodies about whether they should go back. Most of these are in the negative. The Danish embassy there (i.e. our newly-made friend Torben Getterman) says don’t sent them back; “in June over 400 Iraqi civilians were killed,” he notes, mentioning as well that the Iraqi refugee minister has also argued against any forced sending-home of Iraqi refugees because of the continuing violence. (The article also notes that the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority refused return to Iraqi refugees when it was in charge.)

On the other hand, Pia Kjaersgaard of the notoriously anti-immigrant Dansk Folkeparti (Danish Peoples Party, abbreviation “DF”) definitely thinks that Iraqi refugees in Denmark need to go home now. (The Politiken article’s title is “DF Insists on Iraqis Being Sent Home.”) Says Mrs. Kjaersgaard (oh, believe me, she wouldn’t go for “Ms.”), “If it were really so dangerous the Iraqis could indeed gain asylum in Danmark. [But] Iraq is a very big country, and it’s not dangerous in all the cities.” Now, be aware that it does seem that Kjaersgaard and her party are not pushing for forced Iraqi repatriations; rather, what they want is for the Danish MInister for Integration (that’s Bertel Haarder, not a DF member) to personally call upon (“opfordre“) all Iraqis currently residing in Denmark to return home permanently – including those who hold permanent residency permits. (I suppose that it’s conceivable that some Iraqis have even become full Danish citizens; presumably those would be welcome to stay.) The slightly-strange thing is that that is more-or-less the current policy of the Danish Integration Ministry, in that it has made plain that it offers “economic compensation” of DKK 18,000 (= €2,400, = $2,900) for those Iraqis who do return.

IRAQIS DON’T WANT TO GO YET

But that’s far from enough for Mohammed (last name withheld), the star of the Berlingske Tidende article on what is going on currently in the heads of Iraqis living in Denmark (Iraqis Are Glad to Go Home – But Not Yet). Mohammed has lived outside of his native Iraq for a full twenty-four years, the last nine in Denmark, where he has five children – presumably by an Iraqi wife, for he says “I have never felt at home in the other lands I have lived in up til now. I don’t fit in well [anyplace other than Iraq].” Upon arriving in Denmark, and not speaking the language, Mohammed hoped to earn a living by setting up a green-grocer’s operation, which thrived for a time before going bust. Now he and his family are sustained with money from the Danish state. All he says that he needs to be gone with his family for good is in fact DKK 200,000 (= €27,000, = $32,500) start-up capital for him to establish a green-grocer’s back in Baghdad, and that’s less than what his family receives in state-support each year. He actually agrees with the Danish Peoples Party’s suggestion/demand, although he says that with a smile, and adds “but then all the shawarma-stands and green-grocers [in Denmark] will have to close.”

Mohammed actually had the chance to visit Iraq briefly – back for the first time in a long time; yes, he’s still the one who lives on state assistance – and based on that evaluation, for him the security situation impacts the calculation as to when he can return only in its dampening effect on the business climate there. But give him that DKK 200,000 and he’ll take his chances and be gone. Other Iraqis in Denmark interviewed for the article also articulate reasons holding them back more sophisticated than just fear. Nahda Jassem, coordinator of The Iraqi Network of Refugee Help, advises Iraqis to wait for two years before returning, because at present there is no housing for them. In two years’ time the new Iraqi government’s plans to build new, cheap housing should be realized. (This seems optimistic, no?) And Hiknat Hussein, chairman of Copenhagen’s Integration Council, notes that many parents are worried about how their children will integrate back into Iraqi society, both socially and in terms of school curriculum. Hussein reminds us that, as mentioned above, even the Iraqi refugee minister is asking all countries sheltering Iraqi refugees not to force them to return home just yet. “The Danish People’s Party is a bit early in making their demand,” he says.

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