Iraq’s Mosul struggles to revive manufacturing past

Mohammad Salim –
Its wool could once be found in French marketplaces and its cement as far away as Singapore. But after years of fighting, Iraq’s Mosul has yet to regain its former industrial glory.
The city’s factories were pulverised by IS group and its export routes remain choked by informal customs points, while cheap imports flood the market. Those challenges have hamstrung the northern city’s recovery from three years of brutal IS rule that ended in mid-2017, its business owners say.
“Under IS’s strict measures, the factories closed, the economy regressed and Mosul was cut off from the rest of the world,” said 33-year-old Issam Abdallah.
Abdallah owns a dairy factory in the city’s west, most of which was bombed into ruin in the final phase of fighting to oust the IS.
“Sixty per cent of my factory was destroyed, but I borrowed from relatives and reopened it a few months after Mosul was recaptured,” he said. His modest factory churns out white cheeses packed into medium-sized pots that are sold on store shelves in Mosul for 2,000 Iraqi dinars, or a little over $1.50.
But there’s new competition in town, and the same money can buy a much larger vat of cheese imported from Iraq’s northern neighbour Turkey. Unproductive and isolated, the state of Mosul today is a far cry from during the city’s industrial golden days.
It was a crucial overland trading post along the Silk Road to China beginning under Ummayyad rule in the 8th century. Wheat from surrounding fields was processed and stored in Mosul, and the region became known as Iraq’s “breadbasket”.
Wools and tanned hides sourced from surrounding ranches were exported to Europe and contributed to the city’s expanding growth in the 1800s. By the 20th century, oil was discovered, the government invested in manufacturing, and Mosul produced more than one million tonnes of cement — some of which reached halfway around the world to the Far East. In 2013, the city boasted 350 food stuff plants, dozens of tanneries and furniture factories, and other facilities for juicing, processing metal and more.
The following year, IS overran the city, transforming the trade hub into the Iraqi seat of its self-styled “caliphate.” Factories were shut, with 70-80 per cent of their equipment sold or repurposed to make weapons, according to the World Bank. Skilled workers fled and demand plummeted as residents only spent what they absolutely had to. Now, factory owners are trickling back — but finding a near-unrecognisable market. No reliable electricity and water, high rents and no distribution channels are the top complaints, according to a poll by the International Organisation for Migration. — Reuters