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The Rediff Special/Haridarshan Mejie

July 29, 2004

Haridarshan Mejie is a 74-year-old Indian businessman who has had professional ties with Iraq for the last 25 years.

His construction company PCP International works with the United Nations in Liberia, East Timor, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Mejie says Iraq is where his heart lies; he calls it his second home. He says the Iraqis consider India the most favoured nation to do business with and says he is pained to see how the country has been destroyed by America.

In this first person feature, exclusive to, he reveals the pain of a nation under occupation:

Part I: 'America is handling Iraq very roughly'

As we view it from Baghdad, for America, Iraq is going the Afghanistan way. In Iraq, Americans will be put in many more difficulties. There is no way but surrender for America.

People who are involved in the disturbances in Iraq are now coming from all over the world. Local criminals released from jail before the war roam around freely. Wahhabis from Saudi Arabia and armed Shias from Iran are coming to Iraq in large numbers. The Wahhabis have tied up with locals in Iraq who are ready to fight America.

The Iraqi interim government is absolutely useless. Most of its members are brought from outside and are known cronies of America. This government will not be able to deliver anything to the people of Iraq. Rather, many observers feel that these members will be the next target of disgruntled elements in Iraq.

Iraq rebels regrouping: US

In Iraq, the educated people think Colin Powell is the only sensible American in Washington. Most Baghdad-based experts feel US President George Bush was taken for a ride by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz.

According to information we received in Baghdad, the previous NDA government was somewhat ready to send troops at one point. We were worried, and as an Indian, I wrote a note to the ministry of external affairs and then national security adviser Brajesh Mishra.

I said if India sends troops to Iraq, it can't get out of the country safely. In case we decide to send troops, we should only send it to south Iraq, because Indians get along well with Shias. Second, many Indians have contacts in Karbala, a major pilgrimage centre.

India will not send troops to Iraq: PM

India behaved wisely when it consulted the neighbours of Iraq before taking decision against sending troops to Iraq. Time has proved that we had no business to get into Iraq. America has not been able to sell a barrel of oil till now; that shows how bad the situation is.

In spite of all these realities, let me tell you Indo-Iraq trade has a future, it will grow manifold.

Iraqis are basically traders. With a population of around 25 million, they need huge quantities of food and consumer goods. The trade opportunity is enormous for Indians because Iraqis prefer to trade with Indians. The only difficulty is in the payment procedures.

Iraq: Indian contracts future in doubt 

All the banks in Iraq has been looted or set on fire. No old records exist. World Bank and International Monetary Fund teams have visited Iraq. When I sought an explanation their officials told us it would take two years to restore banking operations.

When I asked some World Bank officers about the solution, they said it has to be a cash economy. They claim that for the first 18 months a cash economy was in operation in Afghanistan. It was all cash transactions in Kabul. No banks are operating in a true sense. No Letters of Credit are issued. Why can't it work in Iraq?

When a 30-member strong FICCI delegation went to Iraq last year, we also met Jordan's ministers, and suggested they build a free trade zone on the border of Jordan and Iraq, where Indians can set up offices and let Iraqis come there for buying without visas.

Jordan accepted the suggestion. Such bank branches in the free trade zone will help trade.

We are doing business in Iraq in dollars. When Indian medicines reach Baghdad, my manager Kamal Raj Purohit shows them to buyers who come with American dollars.

It is a risk to accept so many dollars, so he sends a man with the buyer to the nearby exchange bureau where our account is operated. The buyer deposits dollars in our account and the dollars get transferred to our bank account in Dubal or Amman. India will be one of the leading nations to have trade with Iraq via Amman.

The exchange market is operating well. Even in the midst of deaths and destruction, the people have to survive. In terms of value and money, cigarettes and liquor are the top two turnover items.

The coalition army also need lots of things. Last year, after the war, we got an order of around $6 million for Coke and other such consumer items. The best mineral water is produced by the French. We had to convince Americans to buy it.

My Baghdad-based manager told me that a member of the pre-June 30 American nominated Iraqi Governing Council wanted a 10 percent commission in advance to get that contract. The Iraqi government has recently ordered weapons for its newly recruited police force. A huge order for new AK-47s has been placed.

In Iraq , Indians are welcomed also because Baghdad-based Americans and the new government are not placing orders with China, Russia, France and Germany for trading goods. After the war, we already have $500 million of trade.

Indian companies in fray for Iraqi power projects

Apart from trade, construction is another sector where we can have some big jobs. Many Iraqis are not ready to work under Americans. Many former chief engineers and director generals of departments have been employed by us. The American force is paying them just $50 per month. Lower class people are paid only $20. We have welcomed former chiefs of departments to rejoin.

All the new laws are formulated in Washington. One law was the freedom of investment in Iraq. We objected to it. Since the value of dinars is terribly depressed a few Arabs can buy out all the industries of Iraq. This would have risked Iraqis to generations of slavery. Now the correction has been made -- Iraqis will have to be made a partner.

Many officers in the American army in Iraq are businessmen. We don't feel like talking to them. How can they understand Iraq? Most Iraqis are still shellshocked and find it difficult to come to terms with the new realities.

Anyway, we believe in the end America will get a kick in their back. America's presence in Iraq has given the impetus to terrorism. Just wait and see the tamasha!

While I was flying from Amman to Baghdad, an officer of Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, was sitting in the next seat. "I don't know this damn country," he said. "What a place to land! Everywhere it is a desert!" Halliburton is Dick Cheney's old company; it has major contracts for reconstruction in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Let me repeat: Iraqis are happy with the Indians because we refused to send troops to Iraq. Many of us believe that if the next election is held under UN auspices, Saddam's Baath party will definitely emerge victorious.

As told to Senior Editor Sheela Bhatt

Image: Uday Kuckian

Complete coverage: The war in Iraq

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