After the rise in Iraq’s per capita income, Iraqi families are now looking for products other than those available in the local market, which are often imported from China, Turkey and Iran.
Due to the country’s security situation, most American and European companies do not have branches in Iraq. Added to this is the bureaucracy in state institutions that obstructs companies from obtaining the necessary approvals to open branches.
Responding to this demand for commodities, several young Iraqis have created ways to connect Iraqi customers with the global market by launching Facebook pages promoting European and American goods.
All the customers have to do is log on to Amazon and choose their product, and then send the link to the page administrator who sends them the total cost including shipping and customs fees.
Ahmed (a pseudonym) is an architect who opened a Facebook page that now has more than 1,000 members. The page is full of links to goods, and customers can shop around and ask Ahmed about prices.
Ahmed first came up with this idea four years ago, when he would buy products on Amazon for his family. He then expanded his activities to include relatives and friends, and then friends of friends. This prompted him to start the public page.Ahmed only sleeps four hours a day. His day job as an engineer and his work replying to customer inquiries fill his daily schedule.
Ahmed told Al-Monitor that he aspires to “bridge the gap between Iraq and the world, at least through the delivery of high-efficiency products to the country.”
One customer complained about the late arrival and high price of his purchase. Ahmed replied, “The price of shipping to Iraq is too high due to the lack of solid global shipping companies. Moreover, the insurance policy increases when a product is shipped from one place to another.” Ahmed said, “Due to the unstable security situation in Iraq, the insurance policy on a product is very high.”
Ahmed, who founded a small shop in Baghdad to deliver the goods, said:
“To import the goods at the best price, we buy them through the United States, where shipping is free. The products are subsequently sent to Dubai and then Erbil, then down to Baghdad by road. … This process consumes a lot of time but saves a lot of money. Otherwise, buying the simplest things would have been almost impossible.”
Ahmed’s monthly trade amounts to about $15,000, but he’s not considering converting his Facebook page into a registered company. “The Ministry of Commerce requires information such as identification papers, the number of employees and partners and other documents that I have to extract from some departments and institutions. This process is very troublesome,” he said. Therefore, Ahmed relies on “the principle of mutual trust between me and the customer, who pays half the price as a down-payment and the other half upon the arrival of the product ordered.”
Ahmed, along with other Iraqis who work in the same field, shared a complaint.
“There are no fixed standards at the Iraqi customs office. Thus, the customs officer is the one who determines our profit, depending on his mood. … Some of the products are stolen when passing through customs, which prompts me to buy the product again and pay for it myself in order to secure it for the customers, who get upset due to the delay.”