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Inside Iraq's remittance business

Three people involved in the business - and charity - of sending money to Iraq explain how it works.

FADI KAMAR

Fadi Kamar is the director of Sahloul and Kamar Trading Services, a London-based money transfer business to the Middle East.

Counting Iraqi money in Baqouba, Iraq
Iraq is a cash-based society

One of the first things people ask me is who my agent is in Iraq. Then they go away and ask their friends about him.

Agents tend to be wealthy people from well-known families who are already in some financial business - so they have a lot of cash to start with.

They pay out the money on my behalf. We work out each month how much I owe them - it's very varied how I pay.

I can do it through a bank account, but it doesn't make sense to use this for small amounts because of the fees. So often we settle up in other ways: I pay someone else in the UK whom the agent owes, or I can pay his UK bills direct if he gives me proper invoices.

Because I'm not high volume to Iraq, I just have an agent in Baghdad. Other agencies send to Basra, Kirkuk, Sulimaniya, everywhere.

Iraq accounts for a fairly small part of my business; I'd say about $25,000 - $50,000 a month goes through my office to Iraq.

It's mainly people sending $100 or $200 each month to their families.

When I do send money through the banks, it has to go through Jordan and then on to Baghdad. It takes five or six days.

KENNY ZAIR

Kenny Zair is an American Iraqi and president of Aman, a financial services company founded 20 years ago, which started doing business in Iraq in 2003.

Kenny Zair
Kenny thinks automated remittances will grow in Iraq

We do all financial services, remittances form only 5-10% of our business. We're hoping to increase this - there's plenty of scope.

Under Saddam it had to be covert, there was no choice but to transfer money underground, between relatives.

Today there are legitimate companies to do your financial transactions, so things are opening up.

But change does take time. The money exchange system is much more developed than the banking system. A lot of the banks still do business using paper and fax, they're not switching to core automated systems.

At the moment we only take remittances from the US into Iraq, but this will expand from next year. The average amount of remittance from the US is about $400-$500 per transaction.

I want to say we have no rival! But I guess it must be Western Union and MoneyGram. One thing we've done which they haven't is to become licensed for remittances to the Central Bank of Iraq.

That means we can open more locations under our own brand, rather than under the bank's license.

IRAQI WELFARE ASSOCIATION, LONDON

Ola Hussein works for the IWA, a London-based charity serving Britain's Iraqi community.

Ola Hussein
Ola says the IWA has strong links with charities in Iraq

We are a registered charity so we handle donations to charitable causes in Iraq. Our donations department is run on strict legal guidelines.

People send two sorts of donations: towards big crisis campaigns, such as the Sarafiya Bridge bombing in 2007, or on a more personal scale for needy families.

We have agents covering Baghdad and Najaf, in the south. Our organisation is for all of Iraq, but the donations we handle are mainly for Baghdad and the south.

This is because the Kurds tend to have their own organisations, and most of the refugees and asylum seekers here are from the south.

IRAQI REMITTANCES
Banned under UN sanctions 1990 - 2003
No official data available
Western Union and MoneyGram opened in Iraq 2005

We have a saying in Iraq: however old you are, you are still part of the family. You're always going to look out for the family, no matter what country you're in.

People give all year round. During Eid at the end of Ramadan there's 'fitra' - the money you give to orphans. There's 'zakat', the 2.2% of one's salary Muslims are generally expected to give to charity. And 'khumus' - that's the general handing over of money to needy people.

We have extensive experience of charities in Iraq. We know who to give to and who not to give to.


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