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Economic chaos at Iraq's Anbar border crossings

The security situation in Iraq's Anbar province has pushed security forces to close the border crossings on several occasions, impeding the movement of trucks transporting goods into the country and inflicting losses on traders.
An Iraqi police vehicle patrols near the Iraqi-Syrian borders at the Abu Kamal-qaim border crossing, the main border post between Iraq and Syria, September 8, 2012. Al Qaim, in the Sunni heartland of Anbar province, reflects the tricky balancing act Iraq's Shi'ite leaders face in Syria, whose crisis is testing the Middle East's sectarian divide. Al Qaim and its neighbouring Syrian counterpart Albu Kamal are on a strategic supply route for smugglers, gun-runners and now insurgents aiming to join the rebellio

For months, security incidents in Iraq’s Anbar province — the result of military operations conducted by Iraqi government forces against strongholds of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) — have been hindering and sometimes paralyzing the movement of trucks transporting goods into Iraq. These trucks, which enter through the Trebil and Walid border crossings of Jordan and Syria respectively, then pass through the cities of Anbar to reach different Iraqi provinces. Traders and average citizens, as well as the government, have experienced huge losses as a result of security incidents.

Since the end of 2013, Anbar has been subjected to wide-scale military operations that extend along the Jordanian and Syrian borders, and target terrorist organizations and ISIS. This has led more than once to the closing of border crossings to avoid the infiltration or escape of terrorists. However, these crossings were later reopened.

The Federation of Iraqi Chambers of Commerce recorded a significant increase in the prices of goods in Iraqi markets, notably the price of food products. According to Jaafar al-Hamadani, the head of the federation, the increase is due to the difficulty of transporting imported goods through border crossings in Anbar and other Iraqi provinces. 

Hamadani told Al-Monitor that Anbar has the largest and most important border crossings in Iraq, namely Trebil and Walid. He explained that, in addition to the border shutdowns, traders were unable to import goods due to the fighting taking place in various Iraqi cities. Hamadani said that while some traders wait to cross the border and remain parked with their loaded trucks, others return to their countries of origin or find alternate and more costly routes.

According to Hamadani, traders suffered huge losses due to the hold-ups and the use of alternate routes. Citizens have to bear these costs through the rising prices of goods. Even the state is facing the consequences due to a decrease in taxes and custom duties levied on imported goods. Experts in the federation estimate the losses at around $155 million per month, Hamadani noted.

Ahmad Khalaf al-Dulaimi, governor of Anbar, said in a phone interview with Al-Monitor that border crossings are operating only six to eight hours a day because of the security situation and the decreased flow of trucks. He noted that the province, which has been the most impacted economically by security incidents, is in direct contact with the administrations of Trebil and Walid crossings.

Dulaimi said that the majority of employees at both crossings are from Anbar, though some have been compelled to leave the province and abandon their work, another reason for the slow pace of work. Additionally, military operations continue to take place on the roads linking the border crossings to the rest of provinces; thus, it is impossible for commercial activity to take place.

Dulaimi called on security forces to secure some of these roads to ease the flow of goods, and to enforce less bureaucratic measures on the crossings, so that traders can keep transporting their goods.

Iraq's parliamentary economic committee held the Iraqi government responsible for the losses inflicted on Iraq due to security incidents in Anbar, describing the situation at the border crossings as “economic chaos.”

Mahma Khalil, an economic committee member, said in a phone interview with Al-Monitor that the federal government is neglecting the border crossings issue and the plight of traders and truck drivers. The country's political and security issues have come to overshadow economic issues, which is why Iraq lags behind economically. Khalil explained that the government — and politicians in particular — do not recognize the importance of the economic situation.

Though the private sector is affected by the border situation, the public sector is experiencing less harm because it is already weak and not supported by the government. 

Economic expert Hassan al-Assadi told Al-Monitor that the various fees imposed on goods transported through Trebil and Walid have increased by 20-30%. This increase, he explained, began after several traders and truck and transportation company owners refrained from transporting goods through Anbar crossings because of the security situation. He noted that this rate has impacted the price of goods, a consequence citizens alone will bear.

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