Violence, kidnappings and crumbling security in Iraq has meant that German businesses and aid groups are increasingly turning to local Iraqis to run the show.
Lack of security has made German firms and aid groups reconsider their projects in Iraq
In a recent video message, kidnappers from a militia in Iraq threatened to kill two German nationals, a 61-year-old woman and her 20-year-old son who were taken hostage on Feb. 6, if Germany did not pull its troops out of Afghanistan by the beginning of last week. The German government has refused to meet the demand.
The hostages' fate remains unknown more than a week after the kidnappers' ultimatum ran out.
They aren't the first Germans to be kidnapped in Iraq. Despite clear instructions from the foreign ministry not to travel to or stay in Iraq and a string of incidents involving the kidnapping of German nationals by local militias, some 100 Germans still remain in the country.
Ministry spokesman Jens Plötner said that number included embassy officials, people traveling there for short trips and Germans with family bonds to Iraqis -- mainly German women who are married to Iraqis and have lived in the country for decades.
Businesses looking for locals
The Berlin crisis staff said they are "very concerned" about the kidnapped Germans
But whether they are married to Iraqis and live in the country or are only in Iraq a short time, foreigners are at greater danger than locals since they make higher profile targets, according to Nadine Flache of the Berlin-based Rebuild Iraq Recruitment Program, which matches German and other European companies with local workers.
Given the rampant instablity in the country, most German companies are now relying heavily on locals to represent them instead of risking sending their own staff to Iraq.
"German and European companies can run projects in Iraq while keeping their staff's travel to a minimum," she said, adding that Iraqis with university degrees and technical skills are among the most sought after, but companies have also looked for tax advisors and cooks.
Though Gelan Khulusi, head of Midan, a German-Iraqi association for midsized businesses, would not name the handful of German companies in Iraq he advises, he said Germans are making short trips to Iraq.
Germans keep visits short and get help
"Some Iraqi ministries or companies sometimes require German or other foreign partners to be present to sign contracts," he told German public broadcaster ZDF. "That's a reason German businesspeople are in Baghdad from time to time."
An array of security companies offer their services to visitors in Iraq
But visitors to Iraq are seldom aware of the danger the country poses outside of Baghdad, according to private security consultant Alex Breingan, head of Praetoria Consulting.
"People are very surprised when we confront them with actual number on attacks, shootings and how many people are killed in other regions," he said.
While wary of stating hard numbers, Breingan said he and his team of about 800 bodyguards has worked with mid-sized and large German companies in the past and that more and more Germans have recently contacted him to protect their projects and employees.
He said his company offers means of protection in Iraq, varying from high-profile convoys to less conspicuous drivers at costs of between 4,000 euros and 8,000 euros ($5,337 and $10,675) per day depending on the task and location.
Aid organizations' work impaired
Aid organizations' staff members are also at risk -- at least 84 aid workers have been killed in Iraq since 2003, according to international NGO coordination group NCCI -- but the groups' regular and long-term contact with Iraqis makes it difficult for them to avoid becoming kidnapping targets.
Care International's Margaret Hassan was kidnapped and killed in Iraq in 2004
Bonn-based Help, the last German aid organization working in Iraq, stopped its projects at the beginning of March, spokesman Berthold Engelmann said. The group had been working on supplying water and defusing mines and unexploded bombs.
"We stopped using international workers in September 2004," he said. "We continued working with local workers until the end of February but because of the security situation, we can't work there at all at the moment."
Kidnappings drove organization away
Should the country become relatively safer, Frank Mc Areavey, who organized Help's programs in Iraq, said he would have no qualms about returning to the country, adding that there had never been any reprisals against Help workers.
"When workers arrived in April 2003 there was no reason to be scared," he said from Amman, where he is evaluating future Help projects. "The situation changed in August 2003 when the United Nations was bombed in Baghdad and the increasing number of kidnapped foreigners was the deciding reason for leaving."