Careem delivers ride-hailing to Iraq's second-largest city Basra

Expansion follows the start of services in Baghdad and Najaf last year and pilot operations in Erbil

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Ride-hailing company Careem has extended its services to the southern Iraqi city of Basra in the latest expansion for the company. It currently operates in Baghdad and Najaf and has an ongoing pilot project in Erbil. The service will use existing taxis throughout the city, catering to a population of around 2.5 million.

“We are proud to launch our services in Basra today, an important strategic location for us and look forward to serving the people and create job opportunities for the youth of this great city,” said Mohamed Al Hakim, the general manager of Careem Iraq. “Within the next five years, our vision is to serve hundreds of thousands of customers and create more than 10,000 job opportunities in Basra.”

Basra is Iraq's second-largest city by population after Baghdad, where Careem started services in January last year. It is home to Iraq's main port and is also where the majority of the country's oil production takes place.

There is no public transportation in Basra besides privately-operated minibuses that serve dedicated routes but have no timetable or scheduled stops. Taxi prices are currently unmetered, so Careem's app will provide more accurate pricing, while remaining at the same level as taxis.

In an interview with The National last month, Mr Al Hakim said that expanding to major Iraqi cities and provinces would be one of Careem's focuses in the next few months. It is currently in a pilot phase in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The challenges of operating in the country include security concerns, low smartphone penetration, and limitations to digital and physical infrastructure, such as internet service interruptions, a lack of digital mapping and road closures.

However, Careem has found ways to work around these challenges. Mr Al Hakim said the Iraq team visits closed roads to send co-ordinates to Google and allows customers to book by phone during internet cut-offs. Careem has mapped 15,000 locations so far.

“Our technology is helping create employment opportunities and providing essential mobility for millions of people in Iraq,” said Mudassir Sheikha, chief executive and a co-founder of Careem. “I hope our presence here will encourage other companies to set up business in Iraq and join us in helping to rebuild and improve the infrastructure of the nation.”

Careem, which was bought by Uber for $3.1 billion (Dh11.39bn) in March, operates in 98 cities across 15 countries.