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April 27, 2012, Friday

Al Nujaifi: Turkey is Mosul’s gate to the world

I am in the residence of Mosul Governor Atheel al Nujaifi by the side of the River Tigris. Summer has just arrived in Mosul. For this reason, there is some sort of breeze in the shadow. The conversation with Nujaifi is warm and sincere.

Nujaifi sees Turkey as Mosul's gate to the world. He notes that Turkey's development and its attainment of the European standards serves as a guide for them and that they want to benefit from Turkey's experience. For this reason, the Mosul (Ninawa) Governor's Office, in conjunction with the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, is holding a Mosul Investment Conference in İstanbul on May 2-3.

The distance between Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and Mosul is a one-hour drive. The KRG relies on the advantage of being a federal region. Welfare, prosperity, stability and foreign capital… The semi-autonomous Kurdish region receives 17 percent of the oil revenues of Iraq. The number of Turkish firms has exceeded 2,500 in the region. Mosul, on the other hand, the second-largest city of Iraq after Baghdad, is far away from its glorious past. It is unable to deal with poverty. It fails to attract foreign capital. In comparison to the Kurdish region, the number of Turkish firms is just 11.

Mosul is an agricultural and oil region. However, it cannot properly and sufficiently use Iraq's oil revenues. Mosul is also uncomfortable with the recent agreements between foreign oil companies and Arbil to extract oil from Mosul's soil. For instance, Exxon-Mobil signed a contract with the KRG despite the fact that the site it will explore for oil is in Mosul. Nujaifi is holding talks with Exxon-Mobil and the KRG to resolve this problem. In addition, under the Iraqi constitution, Mosul should get 11 percent of Iraq's oil revenue. However, it receives only 2 percent. According to Nujaifi, if the oil bill is not adopted and the oil revenues are not distributed evenly by the provinces, a political crisis will erupt. The poverty rate in Mosul is 23 percent, whereas it is 3 percent in the KRG. Nujaifi notes that the rising tension along the borders of Mosul is creating tension for them as well. As the KRG becomes more popular, it is impossible to explain the recent state of backwardness in Mosul.

The greatest change in Mosul politics in recent times is the agreement between the KRG and the Hadba list (an alliance between several small parties in Iraqi politics). Pointing to this improved relationship, Nujaifi argues that neither Mosul nor Arbil will survive if the disagreements between the parties stay as they are. He stresses that the main problem is that some powers want to use Mosul as a trump card in the conflict or clash with the KRG. Noting that they realize that the issues in Kirkuk and other disputed regions cannot be resolved in a short time, Nujaifi stresses that this is why the parties have agreed to postpone these problems. Nujaifi states that this delay is important for Sunni Arabs and argues that Sunni Arabs have become weaker after the occupation, adding that the Sunnis will need time to regain their previous strength. Noting that both parties want a democratic order in Iraq, Nujaifi stresses that control by one specific group over the others in Iraq is unacceptable. He draws attention to regional differences, saying that different cultural and political groups live in different regions in the country. For this reason, he stresses, they need to have a decentralized structure.

Nujaifi notes that their preference is a structure where all different actors are allowed to participate in the decision-making process. Their second best choice, Nujaifi stresses, is a system that grants broader powers to the provinces which will, however, remain subordinate to the central authority. In case these preferences are not honored, he says, they will have to declare a federated region of Ninowa province akin to the KRG.

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