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Tackling the operational challenges in Iraq

by Arabian Oil & Gas Staff on Dec 26, 2012

Iraq is wrought with opportunity, but also riddled with challenges.
Iraq is wrought with opportunity, but also riddled with challenges.

There are numerous practical challenges that companies face when operating in Iraq. Oil & Gas Middle East looks at the issues and hears how they can be overcome

Keeping in Touch
“One of the largest concerns for any company, no matter the product or service, is good communications, both locally and internationally,” says Peter Day, chief executive officer of Petronor, a private company which is developing the Iraq Energy City, an oilfield supply base in Basra.

Telecommunications and internet services are crucial to operating anywhere, especially in Iraq with its mountainous terrain, sparsely separated hubs and under-developed communications networks.

Fortunately, Iraq’s networks are developing at a steady pace. There is a general consensus that cell phone coverage is adequate, particularly in the municipal centres where there are a number of different service providers. Like many developing countries, these signals deteriorate as you move away from the major centres.

“Phones work, Blackberrys work and the internet works, but these services come at a cost. It comes down to how much you are willing to pay for these types of services,” says Day.


A few good men
Even the best communications networks can only bring an under-developed workforce so far. Assembling the right team in Iraq, training it to operate in compliance with the oil and gas industry’s stringent international standards is not easy. This is particularly difficult in Iraq where many have been displaced and denied formal training after decades of war.

Iraq’s higher education system was severely damaged in 2003. According to a UNESCO report approximately 61 university and college buildings were damaged by war.

Re-development of the education system has been slow due to the lack of investment into local infrastructure.

For many service companies, the biggest problem is not importing equipment or technology, but developing the local Iraqi people in order to do the job. There is an overriding feeling amongst contractors in Iraq that companies simply cannot double or triple production by getting people from outside.

In addition to the shortage of qualified workers, the language barrier presents even more challenges for many companies.

“This was a big issue, so we had to take on interpreters,” says Peter Robinson, Middle East regional director for Bertling, a ship-owning, chartering and transport logistics company with operations throughout Iraq. “But, even with interpreters, some things get lost in translation,” he says.

For specialised skills positions, engineering and management positions, this is typically easier because nationals with the pre-requisite higher education have usually received English training as well. But hiring for the technical skills positions is more challenging.

“Everyone is looking for talented local staff. At some point, the bigger companies were interviewing people, if they could speak English and had a higher education, they would take them,” says Robinson.

“If you’re recruiting welders and mechanics, the English needs to be encouraged and trained. But if you’re recruiting for the junior engineer level, the level of English can be very good. But there’s a big chasm in between,” warns Day. “And you’ve got to take care of that as an employer.”

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