Samson: US gives another $18m in Aid to Iraq

15th March, 2019

At the Third Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region” on Thursday, the United States announced more than $397 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria as part of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2019-2020.

According to a State Department announcement, more than $18 million of this will be used to support efforts in Iraq, bringing the US’s total contribution to Iraq to nearly $376 million since the start of the crisis.

The Kurdistan Regional Government hosts 97 percent of Syrian refugees in Iraq. U.S. funding supports the repair and upgrade of shelters, improvements to water and sanitation systems in refugee and host communities, and the management and maintenance of camps.

Funding also supports psychosocial care and the expansion and rehabilitation of schools, along with teacher training and the provision of school supplies.   LINK


Samson:  Jordan, Iraq start studies to Create New Free-Zone

14th March, 2019    Appearing again today

Jordan and Iraq have reportedly started studies to create a joint free industrial zone on their shared border.

A Jordanian government official told Xinhua that an Iraqi delegation visited Jordan this week to check the capacity of factories that will benefit from a decision by Iraq to exempt commodities — including plastics, pharmaceuticals, detergents, chemical materials and food products — from custom duties.

It is expected that the new free-zone will create allow Iraqi businesses to benefit from exemptions and advantages under free trade agreements that Jordan has signed with several countries.

It will also help to increase Jordanian exports to Iraq, which rose by 26.7 percent in 2018 to 465.9 million Jordanian dinars (3.9 million U.S. dollars).  LINK

Samson:  Christine Lagarde: Financial Management of the Arab World

13th March, 2019

The vision of a better tomorrow is based on the common prosperity of all, benefiting both the poor and the middle classes, and on citizens and migrants alike; and based on opportunities open to all, including women. It is a vision that transcends justice over favoritism and prejudice, and is based on the confidence that government policy is aimed at the public interest.

Is a great vision. But as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum once said: “The bigger the vision, the greater your achievement. The fear was not to keep us young, but we must have the courage to become great.” As you are well aware, fiscal policy plays a vital role in creating and promoting this vision for sustainable and inclusive growth, particularly as summarized in the “Sustainable Development Goals”.

This is because we need financial space to spend on health, education, social protection and public investment, all of which are fundamental priorities in this region. That is why I wanted to return to the Forum on Public Finance in the Arab States for the fourth time now. In previous years, I spoke in detail about fiscal policy (spending and revenue measures needed to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth). This year, I would like to reach a deeper level, the basis of the policy of public finance and good governance. Because without a stable foundation, the best policies can get stuck. The fiscal policy will lack credibility.

In this sense, I will address two key pillars of good governance: strong fiscal frameworks; good governance and transparency. Before I touch upon this issue, allow me a few words on the broader economic context that affects the fiscal policy of the region.  Unfortunately, the region has not yet fully recovered from the global financial crisis and other major economic upheavals of the last decade.

Among oil-importing countries, growth has improved, but remains below pre-crisis levels. Public fiscal deficits remain large, and public debt has risen rapidly, from 64 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 85 per cent of GDP 10 years later. The public debt currently exceeds 90 per cent of GDP in about half of these countries.

The oil-exporting countries have recovered fully from the shock of large oil prices they faced in 2014. Growth remains modest, but prospects are highly uncertain, in part because countries need to quickly turn to renewable energy over the next few decades, In line with the Paris Convention. With revenues falling, the fiscal deficit is slowly declining, despite major reforms on both the expenditure and income sides, including the introduction of VAT and selective commodity taxes. This led to a sharp increase in public debt, from 13 per cent of GDP in 2013 to 33 per cent in 2018.

At this time, we are witnessing a decline in global expansion and a rise in risk. A few weeks ago, we issued our revised economic forecasts. We now see the world economy growing at 3.5 per cent this year, down 0.2 percentage points from what we expected last October. Risks are now higher, given rising trade tensions and tight financial conditions. Not surprisingly, the decline in the global environment has implications for the region through a range of channels (trade, workers’ remittances, capital flows, commodity prices, and financing conditions).

The bottom line is that the region’s future economic path is fraught with challenges, making the task of fiscal policy more difficult, and thus increasing the importance of building strong foundations on which this policy is based.

The first brick in this foundation is the proper fiscal framework. I mean the set of laws, institutional arrangements and procedures to achieve the objectives of a country’s fiscal policy. Such a framework allows governments to plan their budgets in the medium term in a manner that reflects clear, consistent and credible objectives.  There is scope for improving the fiscal frameworks in the region. Short-term vision and lack of credibility are weaknesses in this regard.

For the short-term vision, since sustainable and sustainable growth is a medium-term goal by nature, the fiscal policy needs a medium-term orientation. The focus on the immediate horizon makes it more difficult to implement important but longer-term reforms in areas such as addressing the rise in the public sector wage bill, designing effective social protection systems and eliminating harmful subsidies on fuel prices. The short-term vision means that fiscal policy inflates rather than stirs waves of recovery and stagnation, making it more difficult to achieve sustainable growth and containment.

Here I turn to the credibility of public finances. Factors such as large expenditure amounts not included in the budget and weak risk management were cited. Across the region, sovereign wealth resources are often channeled directly to project financing without going through the regular budget process. In some countries, state-owned enterprises have high levels of borrowing – extra-budgetary as well.   LINK

Samson:  Iraq is preparing to host the International Peace Tournament of Fireworks

14th March, 2019

The Iraqi Motorcycle Federation is preparing to host the International Peace Tournament for Fireworks, with the participation of more than 18 teams and 100 cyclists from around the world.

“A delegation from the Iraqi Central Motorcycle Federation visited the Ministry of Youth and Sports this morning and met with the Minister, who welcomed the visiting delegation and expressed great admiration for all the events, tournaments and competitions organized by the Iraqi Cycling Federation Fire in the past period, including the challenge championship held on the Grand Ballroom in Baghdad, and was successful at all levels and levels.”

Al-Obaidi stressed his continuous support for the sport of fireworks so as to reach the desired goals in creating a solid sports base in Mesopotamia that will be able to compete in foreign tournaments and raise the name of Iraq in international forums.

Al-Obeidi stressed “unlimited support for the Iraqi Federation of the game in the organization of the International Peace Tournament open in Iraq and in the capital Baghdad, which will be attended by more than 18 teams and by 100 cyclists, from different countries of the world and the benefits (Motocross and Drake Rist), which is a remarkable development of motor sport In Iraq, especially the first of its kind to be held in our beloved country Iraq with this broad participation that will unite in it.”

He explained that “the Union is moving steadily in the way of dealing with all sports teams for this sport with the gain of other teams and new, especially in the provinces to expand the scope of bicycles in compliance with the rules of the International Federation of the game.   LINK

Don961:  US says just a few hundred IS fighters left in Syria, Iraq battle

ISIS is down to its last few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land in a battle for its final Syrian stronghold, although it may have 15,000-20,000 armed adherents in Syria and Iraq, U.S. envoy James Jeffrey said on Friday.

“We are just about finished with the campaign along the Euphrates to defeat the last territorial holdings of the ‘caliphate’. They’re down to a few hundred fighters and less than a square kilometer of land,” said Jeffrey, the U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

Jeffrey said the United States was helping the Syrian Democratic Forces inSyria to secure IS prisoners but was also launching a campaign to get countries to take back foreign fighters and their families, to prosecute or re-educate them.

ISIS redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared its ultra-radical Sunni Islamist “caliphate” and established a rule known for mass killings, sexual enslavement and meting out punishments such as crucifixion.

The militants suffered their major military defeats in 2017, when they lost the cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. They were then forced down the Euphrates River to their last bastion at Baghouz, a cluster of hamlets on the eastern bank.

“We believe that there’s between 15,000 and 20,000 Daesh armed adherents active, although many are in sleeper cells, in Syria and in Iraq,” Jeffrey said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

Speaking to reporters on a video call after attending a Syria humanitarian conference in Brussels, Jeffrey said the struggle to defeat ISIS ideology would go on and there was no timetable for a full U.S. withdrawal from Syria.

Some troops would be pulled out but a contingent would stay in northeastern Syria, backed by coalition partners and control of air space, to continue the fight and prevent a destabilizing vacuum developing.

The United States would also maintain a force at al-Tanf close to the Iraqi and Jordanian borders to bolster local forces against ISIS.

With a smaller force and much less combat after the territorial defeat of IS in Syria, U.S. costs would be far less, he said. In 2018, U.S. military operations in Syria cost about $2 billion out of a total defense budget of $700 billion, mainly expenditure on precision-guided munitions.    link