Iran-backed groups corner Iraq’s postwar scrap metal market: sources

Author: 
Reuters
ID: 
1550045427287970900
Wed, 2019-02-13 08:01

MOSUL, Iraq: The wrecks of vehicles used by Daesh militants as
car bombs and other metal debris left by the war in Iraq are now
helping fund their Iran-backed enemies, industry sources say.
Shiite Muslim paramilitaries that helped Iraqi forces drive the
Sunni Daesh out of its last strongholds in Iraq have taken control
of the thriving trade in scrap metal retrieved from the
battlefield, according to scrap dealers and others familiar with
the trade.
Scrapyard owners, steel plant managers and legislators from around
the city of Mosul, the de facto Daesh capital from 2014 to 2017,
described to Reuters how the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have
made millions of dollars from the sale of anything from wrecked
cars and damaged weapons to water tanks and window frames.
The PMF deny involvement. “The PMF does not have anything to do
with any trade activities in Mosul, scrap or otherwise,” a PMF
security official in Mosul said.
But interviews at scrapyards and with those in the industry
corroborate accounts by lawmakers that the militias oversee or
direct the transport of scrap, which is then melted down for use in
building materials, and turn a large profit.
These sources say PMF groups use their growing influence — and
sometimes, according to some witnesses, intimidation — to corner
the market and control transport of metal from damaged cities such
as Mosul to Kurdish-run northern Iraq where it is bought and melted
into steel.
Little of that steel is used to rebuild areas devastated by
fighting. It goes instead to Kurdistan or southern Shiite
provinces, they say.
The trade is one way in which Shiite paramilitaries, which are now
part of the Iraqi security forces, are transforming their control
of land that used to be the Daesh “caliphate” into a source of
wealth.
The increasing influence of the PMF umbrella group, whose most
powerful factions are backed by Iran, is worrying the United States
and Israel as tension mounts with Iran, which is securing its sway
over a corridor of territory through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.
’I Comply — they have guns’
At a scrapyard last month near a PMF checkpoint on the edge of
Mosul, workers sorted through metal from a pile of car parts,
electrical generators and crushed water tanks.
The scrapyard owner said PMF groups buy tons of scrap each day and
sell it in Kurdish areas for up to double the price — or allow
traders to do so in exchange for a cut of the profit, for passage
through areas they control.
“This yard is controlled by one PMF faction, that one across the
road by another,” he said. He declined to give his name for fear
of reprisals by militias.
“I’m only allowed to sell to specific traders — they’re
either members of the militia or have a deal with them. You can’t
get scrap metal through checkpoints without a deal with the PMF,”
he said.
Ahmed Al-Kinani, a lawmaker representing the political arm of Asaib
Ahl Al-Haq, a powerful paramilitary group that has 15 seats in
parliament, blamed such trade on individuals “who take advantage
of the destruction of war.
“The PMF would not accept this. If there are individual, isolated
cases, then the state needs to step in,” he said.
But the scrapyard owner, who said he buys scrap for 100,000 Iraqi
dinars ($84) per ton and sells it for 110,000 dinars, said the PMF
or traders they work with sell it in Kurdistan for up to $200 a
ton. He said the PMF had taken control of his yard.
“One day two men arrived in a pick-up truck, carrying pistols,
and told me to lower the price and sell only to them. I comply —
they have guns,” the owner said.
A worker at the scrapyard opposite described a similar system and
prices, although he did not mention intimidation.
Inside Mosul, scrap is bought even more cheaply. One boy said he
sold for 50 dinars per kilo ($42 per ton) to a scrapyard at
Mosul’s ruined Old City. The site belongs to a PMF group, he and
several other residents said.
The yard contained steel rods and roofing from destroyed buildings,
and home appliances. The wreckage of car bombs and destroyed
vehicles, many of which were taken out of the Mosul area in the
months following the battle that ended in 2017, now make up less of
the scrap.
In Anbar province, west of Baghdad, drivers and traders said the
PMF held a heap of destroyed cars that is visible from the main
highway near Falluja, where fighting was intense in 2015.
The traders said the PMF or companies the militias have agreements
with hire drivers to transport metal from Anbar province to
Kurdistan, or south to Basra.
Alaa, a driver who used an alias, said permission for transporting
scrap lay with the PMF. Lawmakers and traders said the PMF
sometimes transported scrap more openly in their own trucks.
Reuters could not verify this.
Steel from the “caliphate“
The volumes of scrap being moved have reduced since the immediate
aftermath of the war with Daesh, but millions of tons of debris,
including metal, still litter devastated areas.
Mohammed Keko, the manager of a steel plant near Irbil in the
Kurdish region, said he had purchased a minimum of 300 to 400 tons
of mainly Mosul scrap each day since the city was recaptured from
Daesh.
“At the moment we buy for $150 to $160 per ton. It depends what
traders have to pay for it,” he said.
Keko said the PMF controlled transport of scrap, which sometimes
was halted for months while militias disagreed on prices or traders
could not pay enough to get cargo through.
The steel construction rods that Irbil Steel Co. makes from scrap
are sold partly in the Kurdistan region but mainly in southern
Shiite provinces of Iraq, Keko said.
Nawfal Hammadi Al-Sultan, governor of Nineveh province where Mosul
is the capital, also said the PMF buy scrap but dismissed
allegations by some local lawmakers that he allows the
paramilitaries to control the trade.
“They buy it (but) there’s no law that forbids anyone to buy
scrap metal,” he said.
Lawmakers say the steel should go back to the Sunni areas
recaptured from Daesh to help reconstruction. They partly blame the
removal of scrap metal for sale or use in other provinces for the
slow pace of rebuilding.
“It’s stealing material that belongs to the state or people,”
said Mohammed Nuri Abed Rabbo, a former member of parliament.
“The PMF make double whatever they or their traders buy the scrap
for. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of tons.”

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Iran-backed groups corner Iraq’s postwar scrap metal market: sources