April 11, 2017
A man stands outside a shop in Zakho near the Iraqi-Turkish border, Iraq April 8, 2017. Picture taken April 8, 2017. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
ZAKHO — Trucks carrying food supplies whizz down the roads of Zakho in the Kurdistan Region, as traders in Mosul are slowly back in business after the liberation of the east side of the city. Fighting is still raging in Iraq's second largest city but just a few blocks from the frontline, on the eastern side of the Tigris River, shops and restaurants are springing back into life.
Kurdish trader Kasim Dilbrin lost everything when the Islamic State (ISIS) seized his warehouses in Mosul.
Now the militants are retreating, his business is back on track, bringing everything from baby food to flour over the border from Turkey. "We are selling 50 tonnes of flour to Mosul every week," he said, sitting in his office in the town of Zakho, on the border with Turkey. That is still a fraction of the 300 tonnes he used to sell to Mosul until ISIS arrived in June 2014 and shut down his business because he was Christian.
Under ISIS’ 2-1/2-year-long occupation of Mosul, supply routes shifted away from Turkey to Syria - particularly the militants' Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
Some Turkish goods got through, alongside produce from Syria and Iran. But larger Turkish suppliers pulled out, scared off by the closed routes and heightened security threats.
And many logistical problems remain. Only one route from Zakho is open - a 140-km roundabout route via the Kurdish town of Kalak. Traders also have to negotiate a series of often costly roadblocks.
But things are changing fast. Months after Iraq's government and its allies started an offensive against the militants, Kurdish merchants are pushing on behind them, bringing Turkish produce back along reinvigorated trade routes. "Sales have gone up by 30 to 40 percent," since the offensive started in October, said Mosleh Ismail, a dealer in Turkish honey and jam, also based in Zakho.
He sends a truck to Mosul four times a week, and has secured contracts to supply the nearby Khazer camp, home to about 40,000 displaced people.
The return of the Kurdish traders has already proved a boon for the Kurdistan Region, hit by low oil prices and the Baghdad government's decision to cut off funding after the Kurdistan Regional Government started building a crude pipeline to Turkey. And every day, hundreds of trucks cross the Turkish border, pushing to reopen markets in Mosul and beyond.