The road ahead— Baghdad


Waking from the nightmare of war, occupation and civil unrest, Iraq has ambitious plans for the renovation and remodelling of its cities and infrastructure. The rebuiliding isn’t purely a physical process – a new mindset is also being developed.

Baghdad, Bengali, Development, Meyer, Renovation, Sebastian, Shashank

At the height of Iraq’s civil war, it took a strong constitution to brave the arrival into Baghdad International Airport. Once past the heart-plunging corkscrew landing, the better to evade surface-to-air missiles, you had to contend with the 11km highway into Baghdad. The route had earned its moniker after countless roadside bomb explosions and daylight shootouts between religious militias as “the most dangerous road in the world”. Private security companies charged $5,000 for a one-way ride. When he was fortunate enough to get a passenger,…

Rich in reserves

If there’s one major reason to be hopeful for the future of Iraq, then it’s oil. Blessed with the world’s third-largest proven reserves, the country is racing to expand its production and export capacity over the next decade, in the hope of joining its neighbours – and rivals – Saudi Arabia and Iran, as an OPEC powerhouse.

While the two reigning oil giants need not fear just yet – Iraq’s pipelines are old and corroded and its port is a mess of inefficient bureaucracy – a number of ambitious deals appear to be on the horizon. A Singaporean firm is building a $733m (€533m) offshore terminal, which could double Basra’s exports by early 2012. BP is at work pumping new life into Rumaila, a long-neglected field that experts say could become the world’s second-richest within the decade.

Ninety per cent of Iraqi government revenue currently comes from oil, but no one talks of a resource curse: Iraq has been cursed enough already.

Kurdistan: star attraction

There are few places in Iraq where a famous French retailer would feel comfortable opening an outlet, but Arbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous northern Kurdistan region, isn’t exactly like the rest of the country. The hypermarket chain Carrefour is soon to unveil its first Iraqi location in Arbil under licence to a Dubai-based company.

Stable, ruggedly beautiful and largely self-governed, Kurdistan is a commercial gateway to Iraq, and a strategic crossroads. Attractive investment laws have fuelled over $3.6bn (€2.6bn) in foreign investment since August 2008.

Officials are to trim a bloated public sector that employs nearly one-quarter of the region’s 4.8 million residents. Kurdistan has recently muted talk of secession; in last autumn’s negotiations over a new government in Baghdad, Kurdish politicians backed the eventual prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, at just the right moment and retained the key posts of president and foreign minister.

First steps signs of progress

  1. Food delivery
    A restaurant called Saj al Reef has started to deliver pizzas, sandwiches and Middle Eastern favourites to selected neighbourhoods in Baghdad for a charge of about $5. It’s thought to be the first delivery place in the capital in years.

  2. Five-star hotel
    Rotana has opened Iraq’s first new five-star hotel since the Saddam era in Arbil in northern Kurdistan.

  3. Museum
    The Iraqi High Tribunal is opening a museum in Baghdad with evidence of Saddam Hussein’s war crimes.

  4. Sculpture
    The renowned Iraqi artist Mohammad Ghani is working on four new sculptures to be displayed throughout Baghdad.

  5. Reality TV
    “Salaam Shabab” (Peace Youth), which begins airing this year, is Iraq’s first reality game show, funded by the US Institute of Peace. It features teenagers from around the country competing in a variety of challenges.

  6. Central Bank
    Zaha Hadid is designing a new headquarters for the Iraq Central Bank.

  7. Sport
    Basra Sports City, a $500m project being built in Iraq’s second-largest city, will host the Gulf Cup football tournament in 2013.


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