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« Sanity for Iran from Iraq | Main | A Dormant Hell in Iraq »

April 02, 2007

Robot Video from Iraq

-Patrick S Lasswell

Iraq Water.jpg
Fresh from the Factory. Zara Company's WAN Water made in Suliamaniya, Iraq

Last week I spotted something amazing, formed into the base of my water bottle was a bold announcement: the bottle was made in Iraq. Previously, all the water we bought in Iraqi Kurdistan was from Turkey and Iran, and since I drink a lot of water, I noticed that. The first time I drank water from Iran, it was more than a little odd, then a little triumphant because I wasn't a hostage. But this water was not only made here, it was good, and the bottle was different, too. Instead of the standard 500ml, it was 600ml and beautifully formed, clear, and excellently labeled. This wasn't “attempted in Iraq”, this was proudly Made in Iraq.

I pointed out the bottle to Michael and it took him a while to get it. It takes a lot of handshakes and a lot of effort to make this good a product someplace where power is available two hours a day and manufacturing has been stifled since before there were automobiles. Especially after decades of Saddam Hussein doing everything in his power to eliminate productivity for the Kurds, including Stalinist governmental controls, concentration camps without industries, trade destroying sanctions, and genocide. Iraqi Kurdistan used to be incredibly productive, and now it is largely a consumer society, dependent on government money from oil sales. The post-invasion freedoms are producing a boom, but sustaining that growth depends on building things here that are globally competitive. This water was as pretty as the bottles of Evian I got in London last year and tasted better besides.

Water Bottles To Be Enter Heating Chamber.jpg
The more portable blanks that will become bottles enter into a warming oven to prepare them for forming.

I think the war has atrophied the journalist's mental process, for too long all they've been doing is waiting for the next car bomb to write their stories. Here was a real factory, not a car bomb factory, in someplace where factories are unheard of. The phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads” has imposed a kind of retardation on journalist mentality and initiative. Instead of reporting important things that change people's lives and accomplishments that matter, they wait for the next fireworks show and tell us they aren't really death cult paparazzi.

Salar Fakhri Shows His Factory.jpg
Salar Fakhri. Refugee, Engineer, Entrepreneur, Iraqi Kurd. Working to make a future in Iraq.

We got in touch with our fixer and he arranged things so that a few days after noticing the imprint, we were standing next to the machine making them and the man who got things working in Iraq, Salar Fakhri. The factory Salar built was unremarkable to me at first because everything seemed perfectly in order. Then I remembered that my personal standard for factories is my experience at Intel circuit board and computer production plants in Oregon. Salar has brought high technology standards to Iraq. People moved around the machinery in lab smocks taking care to keep the line moving smoothly. There was no yelling over the equipment noise, no frantic action to avert disaster at the last minute, no hint of grime on the equipment, and nothing to suggest that this was anything but a modern industrial plant.

Quality Iraq Water Versus Mullah Mineral Water.jpg
Local Water from Iraq and Imported “Mullah” Water from Iran After Minerals are Revealed with Electrical Current.

Salar was open in sharing his story with us on video. One of the many Kurdish refugees from the 1976 Saddam-Shah-Kissinger diaspora, he found a home in the United Kingdom where he pursued his engineering studies. He found work in a variety of computer engineering positions including Apple. When it became apparent in late 2002 that this President Bush was serious about getting rid of Saddam for good, Salar decided to commit to making Iraq work. Noting the critical shortage of bottled water production capacity in his old homeland, he decided to become an expert in the field. The rapid pace of the high technology world produces people who can learn new skills with incredible speed, and before long Salar had a clear idea of what would produce the most competitive product. Then began a four year odyssey to get a factory up and running with his life savings.

Mountains Behind Water Plant.jpg
Mountains Behind WAN Plant, Source of the Water.

Transportation of the first equipment load to Iraq went smoothly from Aqabah, Jordan up to Iraqi Kurdistan, but then bandits and terrorists closed that route. The second load waited on the dock for several months before coming in from Turkey. With all the equipment in place, struggling with the local government for a place to set up the factory took years of delays. Eventually, an abandoned Pepsi plant was made available. After that, the problem of getting the Taiwanese engineers to come to Iraq was the roadblock. It was difficult to convince the engineers that the Kurdistan region was the safe part of Iraq. Then power availability dropped to two hours a day while fuel prices for the generator skyrocketed. Next came training people with no manufacturing experience how to operate precision machinery in extreme aseptic conditions and instill in them a genuine appreciation of quality production. With production underway, actually selling the water in competition with Iranian product that does not face any quality standards for importation or sale. Teaching Iraqi consumers about the importance of quality water is Salar's next challenge.

Good Water Better Water Mullah Water.jpg
EU Standard Water From Turkey, WAN Water from Iraq, and Mullah Standard Water from Iran. Minerals exposed for comparison.

A lot of people in America and around the world don't think that Iraqi's are doing anything for themselves. I've had the privilege of getting to know Salar and others who are working just as hard to make their homes a better place. It is not easy, but it is getting done. Seven months ago, all there was to drink here in Iraq was imported water. Now I know of five water bottling operations, four of them in Suliamaniya province alone. Iraq will never be as smooth running as Salar's machines, but don't say that nobody is making the effort.

WAN Water Bottling Plant in Operation in Iraq.

Please Support Independant Reporting from Iraq


Patrick give Salar my congratulations. It is a remarkable accomplishment and worthy of accolades. I am wishing him all the best!

Ship the water over here to me. Better yet, let WalMart be the sole distributor...
There are millions of people in the west that wish only the best for the Kurds and Iraq. Give us the opportunity to support your products.

This column strikes a chord with me. Unless you forbid, the following will appear in my column in our local newspaper soon:

Modern Journalists’ Failure

“I think the war has atrophied the journalist's mental process.
For too long all they've been doing is waiting for the next car
bomb to write their stories ... The phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads"
has imposed a kind of retardation on journalistic mentality and
initiative. Instead of reporting important things that change people's
lives and accomplishments that matter, they wait for the next
fireworks show and tell us they aren't really death cult paparazzi.”
Patrick S. Lasswell

For far too long, they've listened for the strain
that a car bomb has blown out someone's brains
and death and havoc reign there in the streets --
and that same headline repeats, repeats, repeats.

Has the journalist's mental process atrophied
to become just, "If it bleeds, it leads"? --
A simple paparazzi for the death cult,
where they do the fireworks, we report the results?

While important things that will change people's lives
might possibly be printed on page B-five.
When someone gets it right, and things go well,
that story is not important enough to sell

Accomplishments that matter are never noted
while dastardly deeds of death are over-bloated.
America, thus deprived of any fresh breath,
can only hear of death -- dark, dreary death!

Oh, for the time when our press was truly free
and not beholden to political philosophy
that must be served, regardless of the cost --
even if it means that American lives are lost.

Patrick Lasswell hit the nail on the head
in the passage above that I hope most of you read.
Join me in demanding to know not just "blood and guts,"
but equally seeing the progress of "bolts and nuts."
© 2007, cbs

Please do so, with my compliments. -PSL

Great person and great story. Iraq needs productive citizens like him. The whole world needs people like Mr. Fakhri.

Heck, he could helped the people here in southern California by opening up another plant because the bottled water here tastes like tap water.

To Salar Fakhri, thank you for having faith in your country and your people. What you have done is a blessing... not only for those who drink it, but for those you have taught a trade... that in turn will teach others. I salute you.

A slew of questions, (forgive me if any of these are answered in the video, I can’t use audio at work):
How is the water priced in comparison to the other water on the market in the area? Is there any kind of recycling incentive to collect and reuse the bottles, or future plans to do so? What relevant analysis is done on the dissolved minerals that are so impressively revealed by the electric current tests? What is their baseline requirement?
Does the product comply with laws and requirements for export/import to other countries? What are the chances of this company getting a contract with the US (or coalition) military to supply water to some of the stationed troops? Is Mr. Fakhri an 'equal opportunity employer'? I noticed men and women in the footage (and MJT lurking around) but is there any evident restrictive hiring policy? Have you noticed any ‘support the local guy’ tendencies in shops or people’s buying preferences? How is advertising done for the product?

Come home safe

Hey Patrick, you and Michael are spoiling me. This is the kind of stuff I want to read about. I really appreciate the "YouTube" video along with the print. For one thing, I use a Mac, and I can always watch YouTube stuff, but there are sometimes other forms of video on the Net that I still can't watch, and my computer is loaded with all the latest and greatest.

Another thing about the video is that it really adds so much more. I felt like I was taking a tour of that plant along with you. Thank you.

Btw, I drink bottled water. I second Babs comments. Ship that Kurdish water here, I'd buy it. :-)

Reading you for the first time. Had almost forgotten what good reporting is like. Interesting stories. Gotta love the Kurds. Contribution coming your way from Wisconsin.

My old pal Salar,

You are a genius, and a very determined one at that.
I salute you.


Sentimental and nostalgic. Great.

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