The Turkish Consul in Basra, Ali Reza Oozjo, is active expanding investment opportunities for Turkey in the province. He has already prepared a number of industrial expos, the first of their kind in the city. His
Located in al- Saraji neighborhood, Abi al-Khasseb district, the Turkish Consulate is the only consulate outside Basra Airport protected by British troops. It was inaugurated on 30 October 2009.
Niqash: To start with, can you tell me about the projects with which Turkish companies are involved? Are there any strategic projects?
Oozjo: Currently, there are no strategic projects for Basra. Decisions regarding all investment projects and teners are taken in Baghdad. The local governments do not have the power to take such decisions and this is one of the problems faced by investment companies
Turkish companies play a major role, benefiting from the fact that foreign companies are much more nervous, especially about the security situation. They spend lots of money for protection because of the current troubled security conditions while Turkish companies are not much obsessed with security.
Tenders won by foreign companies are given to Turkish companies who implement these projects without any problems because we are close to all social and political streams.
There are many Turkish companies implementing projects in Basra. There are also small projects that we implement for the Basra province council. Turkish businessmen meet their fellow Iraqis and there are always new investment agreements. We have inaugurated the Turkish industries fair in Basra and this is a very important step for us to enhance our investment opportunities.
Niqash: How many Turkish companies are operating in the province?
Oozjo: Before the opening of the consulate in Basra on the 30 October 2009 there weren't any investment companies. Now, there are more than 150 Turkish companies who have participated during the last two months in two commercial fairs in the province. We want the number of companies to reach more than one thousand during the next year.
Niqash: How do you see investment opportunities in Basra given the current security conditions?
Oozjo: We don't have any concerns regarding the security issue. None of the companies, no matter what country they are from, think any differently. Conditions in the city are very stable on the security and political levels. The news coming out of Iraq gives no sense of the reality on the ground.
Niqash: There was a series of bombings in the city. What was the impact of these bombings on the work of your companies?
Oozjo: Honestly speaking, there were no repercussions on the companies working here. Bombings did not only target Basra but every area in Iraq. Basra was very stable before these bombings. What happened was an exceptional case and I don't think that Basra will witness any security troubles of such a kind in the future.
Niqash: What is the level of your cooperation with local government and the Investment Authority and how do you evaluate their role?
Oozjo: Their role is very good I think. However, the Iraqi laws are still old and they were all drafted during the Saddam regime. These laws hinder investments and stand in the way of businessmen's aspirations. We are in direct contact with those involved in the local government and the Investment Authority to solve laws related problems.
Niqash: Iraq in general, and particularly the South, is suffering from a water crisis. How would you deal with such a problem? Do you have a specific vision on how to help Iraq?
Oozjo: Iraq gets its water from the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. The water comes from Turkey through Syria and there is enough reaching Iraq. Why is all this water allowed to flow into the sea?
Niqash: Do you mean that we have technical problems?
Oozjo: There is no big problem regarding distribution between the three countries. Turkey gives Iraq, under a bilateral agreement between the two countries, its fair share of water. There have been no complaints from the Iraqi government.
Syria also has a share of water, which it uses, naturally, for irrigation projects. I don’t understand why the quantities supplied to Basra are not used properly. I think new technology is needed to prevent water waste in agricultural areas. Building dams would solve the problem.
Niqash: How do you assess the democratic process in Iraq, and how do you perceive the delay in forming a new Iraqi government?
Oozjo: I think that the worst democratic regime is better than a dictatorship. The Iraqi people accept the democratic process with high spirits. During the elections, I visited a number of polling stations, accompanied by officials from Basra. In solidarity with the Iraqi people, I also colored my finger with purple ink. I believe that the delay in forming the government until this moment is part of the political process and I don't see it as a problem.
Niqash: There are interventions from neighboring countries in Iraqi's affairs. How does Turkey help in forming the new government?
Oozjo: Turkey does not interfere in Iraqi affairs. We also don’t believe there is any political party in Iraq that is working for Iran or for any other country’s interests ahead of Iraq’s own. I am confident that a strong government will be formed, a government that would work for the interests of the Iraqi people.
Niqash: Are competing with Iran in Basra? Can you play this role in a tense social and political environment?
Oozjo: Our work is based on principles of cooperation. Iran is our neighbor and when problems arise, we will solve them among ourselves without seeking external support. Personally, I don't think that there are foreign countries interfering in Basra's affairs. There is no interference from Iran or any other country. If any country wants to play this role, then we have views on the matter.
Niqash: What is the cooperation level between you and the multinational forces? Some say that you are playing the role of US forces in the south. What is your comment on that?
Oozjo: This is baseless speculation. We have no relations with the multinational forces but we have relations with the foreign consulates in Basra, and this is only natural. The US and British consulates perform administrative rather than military tasks and we meet with their officials from time to time.
Still, though, I have had many meetings with the Iranian consul in Basra, as we find common ground together. I only met with the US consul once.
Niqash: How do you describe your relations with Islamic and secular parties in the province?
Oozjo: Before you came here we were hosting a delegation from Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s stream in the Iraqi National coalition. We are open to all streams.
Niqash: Can Iraqis visit Turkey and what kind of services does the consulate provide to Iraqi visitors?
Oozjo: Anyone wishing to visit Turkey should submit applications through the consulate. When I first arrived, I started to ease procedures and now I am trying to cancel the stamping of passports for those who travel via airports. I have already written to officials in Turkey to adopt the new procedures.
Niqash: Security conditions prompted many Iraqis to seek asylum in neighboring countries. Does Turkey host Iraqi refugees?
Oozjo: There are numbers of Iraqis in Turkey, but I don't consider them as refugees. It is not easy for refugees to come to Turkey. The government has allocated certain places for immigrants and they enjoy good living standards. However, the financial means available for immigrants are limited.
Niqash: Are they a burden for the Turkish government?
Oozjo: Not at all. Turkey has more Somali and African refugees, who come from very poor countries and try to cross the Turkish borders to Europe using illegal means.
Niqash: Turkey is known for its cultural, artistic and intellectual wealth. Until now there were no Turkish cultural activities in Basra. Do you have an explanation?
Oozjo: We are intending to hold such activities, but our priority now is economic development. There is a proverb that says "before teaching the child how to run, we should teach him first how to walk."
Yes, it is important to hold cultural activities as you have suggested. I attended an Iraqi symphony concert and I was deeply touched. I welcome any opportunity for providing Iraq with any cultural or other related services. I would also like to mention that one of our companies is now rehabilitating a children's park in Basra.