A soldier from the Iraqi Special Operations Forces 2nd division wipes a comrade's forehead after removing shrapnel from his upper body at an outdoor field clinic in the Samah neighbourhood of Mosul on November 15, 2016.  / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN
A soldier from the Iraqi Special Operations Forces 2nd division wipes a comrade's forehead after removing shrapnel from his upper body at an outdoor field clinic in the Samah neighbourhood of Mosul onShow more

Desperate Iraqis demand food from soldiers retaking Mosul

MOSUL // Hundreds of Iraqi civilians spilled into the streets to demand food on Tuesday in areas of eastern Mosul recently retaken from ISIL.

About 700 residents gathered in three areas of the city’s Zahra and Qadisiya neighbourhoods in search of a meal. Qadisiya was the scene of a fierce ISIL counterattack a day earlier, said Major Salam Al Obeidi.

“This is a problem for us because the food we have is not enough for them and we’re waiting for more food to be sent from the government,” Major Al Obeidi said. “Now the Iraqi soldier is giving his food to the civilians.”

Iraq launched a major offensive last month to drive ISIL out of the city, the country’s second largest, which is still home to more than 1 million civilians.

Special forces have captured a foothold in the city's east, and have been advancing slowly over the past week to avoid casualties and civilian deaths as ISIL fighters emerge to attack from the dense, urban landscape, often with armor-plated suicide car bombs.

Near the north-eastern Zahra district, explosions and gunfire erupted on Tuesday as the special forces advanced. ISIL fired mortars on the troops from apartment windows, wounding at least seven civilians when the shells landed in the streets below.

US-led coalition warplanes flew overhead at low altitude while columns of smoke rose over the city.

The militants struck back against special forces in Qadisiya a day earlier, Major General Sami Al Aridi said. Two dozen men wearing suicide vests charged the front lines, setting off a three-hour battle that killed 20 militants and severely wounded a special forces soldier.

Field medics say dozens have been killed and wounded since the operation to liberate the city began on October 17.

Since last week’s quick advance into Mosul proper, Iraqi forces have struggled to hold territory under heavy ISIL counterattacks.

At a news conference outside Mosul, Colonel John Dorrian, a spokesman for the US-led forces supporting the operation, said airstrikes had so far destroyed 59 suicide car bombs and over 80 tunnels.

“We will continue to strike the enemy for as long as it takes for the Iraqi flag to be raised over Mosul and every other corner of this country,” he said, adding that the coalition had conducted more than 4,000 strikes with air power and artillery since the campaign began.

The United Nations said smoke from oil wells and a chemical plant torched by ISIL near Mosul has forced more than 1,500 people to seek medical treatment for respiratory problems.

The group’s humanitarian affairs coordination office said the fires have emitted toxic smoke for 25 to 60 days, affecting 14 towns. It said the mid- and long-term effects on people’s health, the environment, agriculture and livelihoods could be serious.

In late October, ISIL shelled and set fire to the Al Mishraq Sulfur Gas Factory south of Mosul, causing the deaths of at least four people from toxic fumes, the UN has said, comparing the attack to the use of chemical weapons.

Nearby oil wells set ablaze by ISIl have been burning since June.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, Iraqi officials said bombings in and around the city killed at least 14 people on Tuesday and wounded more than 50.

The attacks targeted outdoor markets, Shiite pilgrims and anti-ISIL Sunni tribal fighters, police said.

*Associated Press


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Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”