Double suicide attacks that blasted the Trade Bank of Iraq headquarters and killed nearly 30 people in July, following an assault on the Central Bank of Iraq involving bombers and gunmen the previous month in which 20 people died, rattled nerves and served as a deadly reminder that Iraq’s financial sector remains in the crosshairs of militant groups looking to destabilise the country.
These lethal events aside, the perception of worsening security in Iraq is largely inaccurate, argues Dr Michael Knights, vice-president of analysis for security firm Olive Group. The perception stems from the relatively high number of attempted mass-casualty attacks this summer by Sunni extremist groups and the high profile garnered by such attacks, he says.
This matches the assessment of other security analysts active in Iraq. Andy Edwards, CEO of Consilium Risk Strategies, says: “Despite the recent and very regrettable violence in Iraq, the situation is slowly improving and is now dramatically better for business than when we first began to work in Iraq [in 2003].”
A welcome drop
On a statistical basis, general violence is narrowing and thinning out significantly.
There were 332 officially reported incidents (defined as an enemy-initiated attack, arrest operation or serious crime) across Iraq in July 2010. The figure of 332 incidents in July is a decrease from 479 in June, 595 in May and 637 in April.
“If official incident levels are accurate, violence is dropping well below the pre-election [March 2010] tempo and is indeed the lowest recorded level since April 2003. This means fewer incidents in each neighbourhood and a gradual return of normality, relative to earlier years at least,” says Mr Knights.
Quieter in Baghdad
The capital is also getting safer month by month. For anyone sitting on a city rooftop in the evening, the sound of bangs (bombs) and cracks (gunfire) is no longer a given. Baghdad witnessed a second consecutive month of steeply reduced violence in July 2010, with only 71 incidents reported from the joint US-Iraqi reporting system. This is the lowest level since collection of incident figures began in 2003.
Baghdad does see waves of violence depending on the security and political climate and there are minor local fluctuations, but the year-on year trends are encouraging.
Financiers, investors and business partners from abroad will need to be aware of the vulnerability of the bank offices and other facilities that they may need to visit when doing deals in Baghdad – which, all things being relative in a highly fluid and occasionally volatile situation, is not necessarily any greater than that of many other potential targets of violence in the country.
“Financial institutions in Iraq [such as the trade bank and central bank] are as safe to visit as any other major government installations.
They stand about the same chance of suffering a major attack as major hotels or ministry buildings, which is to say that you would have to be very unlucky to be in exactly the wrong place when an attacker strikes,” says Mr Knights.
“Statistically, the number of effective attacks on such institutions can be counted on the fingers of one hand at the end of a sevenyear insurgency.
“The key is to insure your visit with an experienced security team, which will minimise the time you spend in the car parks, lobbies and other vulnerable parts of such locations."