Baghdad’s Sina’a Street rocked by kidnappings

Computer resellers on Baghdad’s Sina’a Street are coming to terms with the dramatic events of the last 24 hours after as many as 14 workers from a number of IT shops were allegedly abducted. The incident brought trading on Sina’a Street – where more than 300 Iraqi resellers conduct their business – to a complete halt. Resellers say it could take weeks before normality returns.

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By  Andrew Seymour. Additional reporting by Aaron Greenwood and Stuart Wilson Published  October 3, 2006

Computer resellers on Baghdad’s Sina’a Street are coming to terms with the dramatic events of the last 24 hours after as many as 14 workers from a number of IT shops were allegedly abducted by men dressed as members of the Ministry of Interior’s Special Forces. The incident brought trading on Sina’a Street – where more than 300 Iraqi resellers conduct their business – to a complete halt. Resellers say it could take weeks before normality returns. Trouble began late yesterday morning when seven four-wheeled vehicles rolled into Sina’a Street, which is close to Baghdad’s Technology University. Several men got out of the vehicle and snatched staff working in stores belonging to resellers Al Sira, Arazi and Raad. "I cannot understand why it happened and I believe that it was a kidnapping and not official authorities. Al Sira is a distributor of LG and I have known them for some five years,” said Mansour Ali Akbar Flamarz, general manager at Iraqi IT group Al-Naba’a. Omar Baktash, channel sales manager at Almasa IT Distribution with responsibility for Iraq, said he was still trying to assess what had happened: "The details are still very sketchy. All we know is that some people came to three shops in Baghdad wearing uniforms that looked like they were police or army and took away the staff for some reason. Where these people are now is unknown. We know that one of the shops affected was Al Sira." Flamarz said it was not clear when Al-Naba’a – a Gigabyte distributor for Iraq and an HP partner – would see conditions return to normal. "Now, one day after the incident, around 80% of the shops on Sina'a Street are closed. We have only opened for a few hours between 10am and 1pm. Maybe business will get back to usual - but I cannot say how long this will take," he said. Another source with a high-tech shop adjacent to Sina’a Street also admitted that trading could be disrupted for some time: “We told our staff to go in for one hour this morning and do what they have to do, and then we closed the shop,” he revealed. Sina’a Street is a thriving marketplace for resellers of computer equipment and is constantly crowded with traders. But resellers understandably remain shaken by what has happened. Until the motive for the kidnappings has been established there is always the danger that it could have been the work of gangs which may return. "Most shops didn’t open today and I don’t see it happening soon. It will probably take two or three weeks,” said one source. The three shops at the centre of the incident were targeted by thieves immediately after the abductions happened, according to the boss of one store, who said his employees watched events unfold. “Some small items were taken – anything that was expensive and not heavy. Fortunately some of the neighbours intervened and closed the shops.” Iraq remains one of the most dangerous markets in the world to do business from a physical point of view, and the latest drama will clearly take some time to sink in. Delair Adib, business development manager at Iraqi IT company Iraqcom, said: "We have been concentrating our operations in the north of Iraq because of the nature of the security situation in Baghdad. Many of the computer companies operating in Baghdad have to employ security guards for their business, which is obviously adding to their costs," he added. The incident comes at a time when some members of the Baghdad IT channel have also raised concerns over the current state of the market. Flamarz at Al-Naba’a said: "The volume of business in Baghdad has been declining during the last quarter. Some customers that used to come from the north and south of the country to Baghdad are no longer visiting. We have operations in Mosul and Basra that these customers are turning to instead. Some customers, rather than visiting the showroom in person, are getting us to send them sample products and then ordering by e-mail and sending a driver to pick up the products." Dubai-based IT and mobile handset distributor SourceIT has also been impacted by the ongoing instability in Iraq. SourceIT director Chris Rae said the company lost a "significant amount of stock" when its key retail partner's flagship store in Baghdad was recently destroyed by a car bomb. Rae said the serious risks associated with trying to do business in Iraq outweigh any potential commercial benefits. "It's absolute chaos in Baghdad at the moment," said Rae. "In fact, the current situation makes it almost impossible to do business anywhere in the country." Anyone with more details on the situation in Baghdad’s Sina’a Street should e-mail andrew.seymour@itp.com or call +971 4 391 0889

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