The Sheik Finds a Way to Move Scrap to Market

It’s a brisk November morning and predictably, the cafe is quiet. Not dead, just quiet enough to give me a chance to sit in my favorite window seat, gaze out on the bright sun and deserted streets, and read the WSJ. I read a piece first about Iraq’s surfeit of scrap–the discarded and bombed out trucks and re-bar that litters nearly every city of this embattled country.

Iraqis want to truck the scrap to their neighbors, and cash in on its high value. But the country’s leaders slapped a ban on exporting Iraqi scrap because they want to keep it in the country to melt down into new re-bar to rebuild their buildings. The idea is that Iraqis can save by making their own steel reinforcement bars, instead of relying on expensive imports.

While it remains illegal to export Iraqi scrap, on American bases there are yards and yards of it, discarded planes, blown up trucks, and mounds of scrap 30 feet high. An influential sheik of a large Shiite Arab tribe named Sabah al Khafaji has struck a deal to buy scrap for $14 a ton from our military and sell it at the global rates of up to $220. But it’s up to the sheik to get the ok from his government to move the tons of metal over the border. “There’s so much money in scrap,” he said.