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E-Trading Arrives in Iraq

Haider Najm
Al-Harej markets are famous throughout Iraq. In every city there is a popular Harej market, the most famous one being located in al-Maydan in Baghdad, where electrical devices, furniture and other second hand goods…
26.05.2009  |  Baghdad

Now, Iraq’s al-harej market has gone electronic following the launch of the country’s first trading web-site (www.harej.com).

The site’s creators say the aim of the project is to help customers avoid the risk of going to crowded markets, which might be the target of suicide bombings. Instead Iraqis can buy and sell goods using their computers while enjoying a hot cup of tea at home.

Mahdi al-Ajwadi, the web-site’s director, is a young Iraqi software expert. He told Niqash that there are currently 729 subscribers but that they are hoping to see rapid growth in the number of users. “Since the site was launched, it has been re-developed many times in order to identify the extent to which Iraqis will accept such an idea," said al-Ajwadi.

According to Ajwadi the site sells goods in auction formats. When a price is agreed, real appointments are set up over the phone in order to exchange the goods for the money. At the moment the frail banking and postal service do not allow the whole process to be conducted remotely.

All deals are concluded in Iraqi dinars, with the option of paying for goods in US dollars existing as well. The site does not receive any commission for the selling and buying of goods and the owners of the site are financing the site through their own resources in order to help the site grow and attract advertisers. In this regard, “we are investing for the future," said al-Ajwadi.

The e-market allows participants to sell and find all kinds of goods and services such as cars, electronic appliances, houses and jobs, provided that the commodities are not prohibited by Islamic sharia law. Goods such as pork and alcoholic drinks are therefore not available. The site also bans weapons, stolen items such as national antiquities, as well as pornographic goods.

The e-market has its own ‘penalties.’ If a subscriber attempts to sell banned items or gives inaccurate information about their product, a comment will be displayed on his profile and made available to others subscribers affecting his reputation in the market.

“No one is allowed to participate in an auction if he does not intend to buy because such a practice is banned by Islam,” declares the site.

Haydar Kathim, a frequent user of the site, told Niqash that he had already concluded a number of deals and sold many items such as mobile phones, calculators, watches, computers and home appliances either in auctions or through direct sales. “For me, making a profit is the main reason for subscribing. Additionally, the market allows me to dispose of old and unneeded things that I don’t want to keep,” he said.

Yet the reality is that the site remains low in user numbers. Although the site’s weekly newsletter reaches up to 5000 email addresses the number of subscribers and items offered for sale are few.

One user, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that she had advertised her computer on the site but had not received any responses. “This small site can’t be compared to other electronic selling and buying sites such as eBay, but I wanted to try it,” she said.

But Mahdi al-Ajwadi says the lack of web traffic is not a sign of weakness. “Up until now, the site’s marketing has depended on personal efforts and the number of subscribers is slowly growing, but we are determined to develop the site and attract the biggest possible number of customers,” he said.

Al-Ajwadi acknowledged that Iraqis are slow in accepting the project because “internet use is new in Iraq, we are still not strong enough in marketing and advertising, banking services are weak and there is a lack of trust and confidence in such ideas."

Despite these challenges, the team behind the site remain confident that they will succeed in opening up e-shopping to the country.