Saturday, October 23, 2010

Arabs flood Kurdistan for cars

Erbil becoming a car sales hub to the rest of Iraq.

Cheaper and more reliable automobiles entice Arabs from middle and southern Iraq to journey to Kurdistan for good deals.

Mahrath, the main center where cars are sold, is overcrowded by car purchasers--many of them Arabs from middle and southern Iraq. The car-selling business is booming as Erbil city has become the main hub of Iraq's car business.

"Currently, 90 percent of our Korean-made car customers are Arabs," said Hakim Muhammad, a car dealer, adding that Korean cars are Iraqi's No. 1 choice because they are cheaper than German or U.S. cars and the quality is good. "Here, if you ask anyone which car is best, they will say BMW. But the majority of Iraqi people cannot afford BMW cars as they are very expensive," Muhammad said.

He said Arabs buying cars here do so for economic reasons. "In other parts of Iraq, car plates are very expensive; one car plate costs US$4,000 to US$5,000, but in Kurdistan the price of a car plate is US$700 to US$800."

In Iraq, vehicle plates are issued by the Ministry of Interior, but Iraqi Kurdistan has its own government and rules. In Kurdistan, cars are guaranteed official papers and ownership, and there are no stolen cars here, said Muhammad. But in other parts of Iraq some cars have bad backgrounds. "Therefore, they [Arabs] are very content when they buy cars here."

Most of the customers from middle and southern Iraq buy old cars. Ali Salman of Baghdad recently shopped for a car manufactured between the "90s to 2000. "New cars are not good for Baghdad as the roads are bad--and when someone has a new car in Baghdad, he always worries it will be stolen." Baghdad citizens prefer Korean cars over German and American cars because they are better on gas.

"Baghdad is very crowded; there is rush hour all the time due to the presence of a lot of checkpoints, and you need an economical car--a car that can operate with little gas. Otherwise, you have to spend a lot of money." Although Iraq is very rich with oil, gas, there is always a shortage. Currently the price of one liter of petrol in petrol stations is about 50 U.S. cents, which for Iraqi people is expensive considering their the average salaries.

Imad Majeed, a car dealer, believes that if a Korean or German car manufacturing company opened a branch and made cars in Kurdistan Region that it would be a good investment. "Kurdistan can become a center to export cars to other parts of Iraq, Syria, Iran, and some Gulf Arab countries," said Majeed.

Despite that fact that the car business is booming in Kurdistan, Majeed has concerns. "There is no joy in driving a car anymore; Erbil is stuffed with cars, and when you go to market you can't find a place to park your car." He often takes a taxi to market to avoid parking issues. "I wish the culture of riding bicycles would come to Kurdistan; it is safer and better for the environment," Majeed concluded.

Recently, the General Director of Kurdistan Region Traffic, Brig. Rizgar Ali, stated that in the past 10 months more than 400 people have been killed in car accidents in Kurdistan Region, including in Kirkuk city, and about 5,000 have been injured. The population of Iraqi Kurdistan Region is about 4 million, while there are almost 1 million vehicles in the region. Drivers say driving is not fun anymore as too many cars operated by poor drivers clog the streets.

A joint statement issued recently by KRG's Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Interior said that cars manufactured before 2009 and trucks manufactured before 2005 are 'not allowed to enter Kurdistan Region."

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