Kuwaiti Investor Returns to Iraq with a Project of Date Palm Groves, Natural Reserve

Kuwaiti Investor Returns to Iraq with a Project of Date Palm Groves, Natural Reserve

Tuesday, 22 May, 2018 - 08:30
Palm trees belonging to a Kuwaiti investor Abdul-Aziz al-Babtain are seen in the port city of Basra, Iraq May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
Southern Badia (Iraq) - Asharq Al-Awsat
In a territory that witnessed the Gulf War in 1991, deep into the desert of southern Iraq, Kuwaiti Investor Abdul-Aziz al-Babtain is looking to cultivate 100,000 palm trees and build a natural reserve for ostriches and deer.
 
Few Kuwaiti companies have resumed business in Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded his neighbor in 1990 and the liberation of the country a year later.
 
Abdul-Aziz Babtain, is dedicating $58 million into a date farm project in the southern Badia, about 150 km from the port of Basra, officials said, according to Reuters.
 
“We hope to have 100,000 (trees) in the next five to six years,” Reuters quoted Diyah Sharadeh, Babtain’s representative in Iraq, as saying, adding that the dates would first be sold in Iraq and later exported. So far 5,000 date trees have been planted.
 
A sign in Babtain’s office showed that the businessman started working on the farm in the 1980s, but Iraq seized it after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and turned it into a military zone because of its proximity to the Kuwaiti border.
 
In a bid to turn a new leaf, Iraq returned the farm to Babtain and granted his business tax exemptions, Reuters said.
 
“This will be the first private (date) investment project in Iraq,” said Ali Ghasseb, head of the Basra Investment Commission. “It was a farm, then became a battlefield and is now again a farm.”
 
According to the agency, the farm has created about 50 jobs in this devastated area, and will need about 500 workers when dates production begins. In a second step, Babtain plans to create a nature reserve to import ostriches and deer, Sharadeh noted, as quoted by Reuters.
 
Relations between Iraq and Kuwait remained tense even after Saddam Hussein was toppled in the US-led invasion in 2003, but they have improved since, with Kuwait hosting a donor conference to rebuild Iraq in February. But Kuwaiti companies are still reluctant to return, demanding guarantees that their activities would not be seized again.
 
According to Reuters, trade has picked up in recent years as foreign firms use Kuwait’s port to ship goods to Iraq due to its better security. Up to 200 vehicles cross the border at the Safwan post every day, an Iraqi officer said.

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