Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Central Bank of Iraq Construction

Baghdad Invest - 24/04/2012 Baghdad.

The central bank - Iraq, reconstruction has begun.

Noaman Muna returned to his native Iraq five decades after fleeing chaos and revolution in the 1950s.

"If I wasn't optimistic, I wouldn't have returned," says Mr Muna, who went back to Baghdad three years ago as a project manager to build the new headquarters of the Central Bank of Iraq after working at major architectural practices in London.

A decade after the United States war that ousted Saddam Hussein, plans are being drawn up to design a mega-city and urban planners and architects such as Mr Muna are at the vanguard.

Beyond the grey concrete walls and endless security checkpoints that pepper the city, cranes have been erected for the first time since 2003.

Bricks and building materials spill on to the streets, while hoardings show renderings of futuristic building projects that would rival any modern city.

"We haven't had a major development in Iraq for many years," Mr Muna says. "We had some infrastructure projects in the 1970s and '80s, monuments, but not functional buildings that serve the community. They are modest compared to what Iraq needs at the moment."

With more than 95,000 square metres of space on 40 floors, the proposed central bank will be the tallest building in the city and overlook the Tigris River from the fabled Abu Nawas Street, named after one the most revered classical Arabic poets who appears several times in the book of OneThousand and One Nights. The building is scheduled to be complete in 2016.

Designed by the Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid, the central bank building will attempt to mix and modernise features of the Sumerian Ziggurat and the Samarra - both renowned temples that are a part of Iraqi heritage.

The first is a steep pyramidic structure with a flat top similar in style to representations of the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The latter resembles a great stone helter-skelter atop an enormous plinth.

"It needed to be a unique and iconic building that represents a new emerging Iraq," Mr Muna says.

Set at the end of the Karrada district, the central bank is near an island lined with lush palm trees, opposite the green zone. The island was originally planned as a cultural centre that would have housed a giant opera house designed by the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1950s, but scrapped after the socialist revolution that ousted the monarchy in 1958.

The island is known as Madinat Al A'aras, or "City of Weddings", as it was a prime location for luxury weddings in the 1980s. Suffering after years of war, sanctions and travel bans, newlywed Iraqis would honeymoon on this secluded tropical island, holidaying in chalets hidden among the palm trees.

Today, there are plans for the wedding island to be renovated as a leisure hotspot in the heart of the capital.

"We are inviting investors to help develop this land," says Osama Al Kaseer, an engineer consultant who was awarded a US$4 million (Dh14.6m) contract by the mayoralty of Baghdad to redevelop the master plan of the city. "It will have recreation: five-star hotels; tennis courts; cafes and casinos."

Mr Al Kaseer is the representative of a joint venture in Baghdad that comprises Khatib & Alami, a Lebanese architecture firm the main office of which is in Beirut; Pacific Consultants International, a Japanese construction company; and the Iraqi firm Medex.

Mr Al Kaseer faces a major task updating Baghdad's master plan to accommodate the current population of about 6 million, which is expected to double by 2030. The plan was last updated in 1972.

"We are thinking of accommodating some extra population into 'satellite cities' within a radius of 60km from the centre of Baghdad," he says. Urban planners are looking to Lebanon for inspiration as they rebuild Iraq after security improved following the sectarian conflict of 2006-2008. Beirut's reconstruction efforts after the civil war that took place from 1975 to 1990 attracted billions from foreign and local investors and re-established the capital's position as the "Paris of the Middle East".

"You have the Solidere area, which was completely ruined by the civil war," Mr Al Kaseer says. "Now it is really beautiful."

Baghdad's Rasheed Street, a bustling site of commercial activity during the Ottoman Empire, is now in a sad state with broken windows, graffiti and dilapidated porticoes housed by car repair shops and stores selling knick-knacks.

Architects involved in the restoration projects have drawn up the designs for the street modelled on Paris in 1916, as an Iraqi version of Beirut's Solidere district, filled with modern malls, cobbled walkways lined with shops, palm trees and fountains.

"Every Iraqi would agree for its restoration," says Caecilia Pieri, the head of the Urban Observatory at the IFPO Institute français du Proche-Orient based in Beirut and the author of Baghdad Arts Deco: Architectural Brickwork 1920-1950.

"It's where you had new shops from Europe in the 1920s, banks, and nearby in the cafes is where the artists, poets and singers would meet," she says.

"Rasheed Street really stood as the backbone for the urban middle class."

Latest Iraqi related news from: www.baghdadinvest.com

Baghdad Shopping Mall

Baghdad Invest - 24/04/2012 Baghdad.

A new shopping mall in Baghdad provides for retail therapy needs.

Baghdadis who traditionally flocked to the old bazaars on the streets in the Karrada district will now have their very own shopping mall.
Construction of Baghdad Mall has started and the US$100 million (Dh367.3m) project in the affluent neighbourhood of Al Harthiya will include a shopping centre, a five-star hotel, a state-of-the-art medical centre, a gym and a giant covered parking lot.
The mall is expected to transform the shopping experience in Baghdad, said Haj Mohammed, one of the five private investors at Dar Al Sabah, an Iraq-based contracting firm that entered in a joint venture agreement with the Turkish contractor Tefirom to build the mall.
"In Iraq, retail shops have to manage with power cuts throughout the day, business has also been hurt because of the increased security crackdown, the checkpoints and difficulty with parking space has really lowered the amount of footfall you see in the commercial areas of the city," he says.
"In Iraq, if you just leave your car on the streets security officials would be suspicious that it has a bomb."
Many international retail shops, such as Mango and Zara, have entered the Iraqi Kurdistan region with the arrival of new shopping malls, drawn by the facilities and increased level of security that come with them.
Mr Mohammed expects to see the same level of interest from international brands in central Iraq when the mall is finished, which is due to be by the end of next year.
Baghdad Mall will have 16,000 square metres of leasable space.
"We have already received many inquiries from international shops that already have presence in Erbil, as well as from local shops, particularly jewellers, who would see the opportunity renting space here," Mr Mohammed says.
On completion, Dar Al Sabah expects to hire an international mall operator to manage the day-to-day requirements of the shopping centre and ensure that standards are similar to levels seen in the Gulf.
It will also invite an international hotel chain to manage the hotel.
Many foreign companies that have shown interest in expanding their operations into Baghdad have come across a range of difficulties, such as access to financing, dealing with rampant corruption, and restrictive regulations, Mr Mohammed says.
There are a range of foreign investment initiatives to rebuild the country that require the government to be a partner and this has been seen as a main reason for project delays and why foreign companies are still slow to enter the country.
"Baghdad Mall has been successful only because it was purely a private investor and private sector affair," Mr Mohammed says.
"Laws need to be updated. Right now, you have a liberal government that is open to foreign investment, but laws that date back to the socialist regime."

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Iraqi Dinar Sanctions

Baghdad Invest - 16/04/2012 Baghdad.
Iraq dinar hit by fallout from sanctions next door...........

At Alaa Radhi's currency exchange shop in central Baghdad, a board showing the rate of Iraqi dinars to the dollar has three question marks next to the price.
For weeks now, Iraqi businesses say they have been struggling as the dinar has become increasingly volatile due to fallout from sanctions imposed on neighbouring Iran and Syria and to Iraq's own political turmoil.

"The price keeps changing so quickly," Radhi says, counting a wad of dinars at the counter of his exchange. "That's why I can't write a fixed price."

The Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) this month imposed new measures to curb demand for the dollar after a spike at its daily auctions as local traders bought greenbacks to sell them on to Iran and Syria.

In a bid to stem the flow of dollars from Iraq, the bank tightened regulations over who can participate in auctions and sent a message that it was still in control of the market by revaluing the auction price of the dinar slightly higher to 1,166 per dollar from 1,170.

Merchants participating in currency auctions are now required to be members of the Iraqi Chamber of Commerce, which means they have to register business more formally, and have to obtain licenses from the trade ministry.

But the bank's crackdown has pushed up the value of the U.S. currency in the local market, throttling local businesses who rely on dollars to purchase foreign imports.

"This the first time it has increased this much ... it definitely affects citizens because people deal in dollars," said civil servant Abu Mohammed, who sold $300 dollars at a rate of 1,280 dinars per dollar at an exchange shop.

He had bought dollars at a rate of 1,240 dinars per dollar less than a month ago.

Currency traders say the market is at a standstill.

"It's stagnated because people say they won't sell (the dollar) as it may keep increasing, while others say they won't buy it as the value may drop," Radhi said.

Iraq is recovering from decades of war and sanctions, and its economy is still very centralised, which is a chief complaint of foreign investors starting to do business in the OPEC nation. Oil accounts for 95 percent of government revenues.

With Iran and Syria under Western sanctions, Iraq is becoming an important source of dollars for them as residents and businesses in both countries seek hard currency to escape their weakening local money.

The central bank says Iraq's large foreign reserves, which have risen to a record $60 billion on the back of high oil prices, will shield its financial system from damage.

But it says its recent measures were needed to bring more discipline to the local market.

"We don't want currency going to finance terrorists, going to finance illegal (activities). We have to work carefully in this matter and move swiftly. We're under pressure," Mudher Kasim, a deputy central bank governor, told Reuters.

"We intervene in the market with this auction to stabilise the Iraqi dinar and to keep the exchange rate stable ... The main thing is to make the Iraqi dinar safe. That's a priority."


Sinan al-Shibibi, Iraq's central bank governor, said at a conference with businessmen last week political infighting in Iraq's power-sharing government and a failure to develop the economy beyond the oil sector had aggravated the dinar's volatility.

Political tensions have been high since U.S. troops withdrew in December and after the Shi'ite-led government sought the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges he ran death squads and the removal of Sunni Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Ties between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the north have also been strained over oil exports and the KRG's decision to let Hashemi take refuge in the autonomous region.

For traders, the new central bank requirements for the dollar purchases are hurting business.

They are required to produce legal documents and obtain clearance within 30 days in order to send money overseas to pay for imports. They also must produce a certificate from the country of origin of the goods, which has to be endorsed by the Iraqi consulate in that country.

Traders say these measures are time-consuming, and many have been forced to turn to the local market to source dollars at a higher price than the CBI to secure their goods overseas.

"I have needed to transfer money for the past four months in order to import goods, but I cannot cope with these new measures," said businessman Dawood Abed Zyer. "Who is going to cover the difference in price?"

Businessmen say the measures are unrealistic and should have been brought into the market gradually.

At least one Iraqi cabinet official agrees.

"These measures were too late and too sudden," cabinet secretary Ali al-Alaq told.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Iraq Olympics London 2012

Baghdad Invest - 09/04/2012 Baghdad.
Documenting the Olympic Dreams of Iraq’s Rowers

Haider Nozad, an Iraqi oarsman, wants to go back to the Olympics.
Last time, in 2008, he and his rowing partner, Hamza Hussein Jebur, almost did not make it because of politics. This time, they may not qualify.
Mr. Nozad and Mr. Jebur failed to do so at the world championships last year. The rowers, who once trained on the brown waters of Baghdad’s Tigris River when it was a macabre dumping ground, will have another chance later this month at races in South Korea.
Tracking the improbable story of these rowers and a third, Ahmed Abdul Salam, as they work to make the 2012 Summer Olympics have been two French filmmakers, Anne-Sophie Le Mauff and Véronique Mauduy. In the last few days, the filmmakers have been releasing new episodes from their French-language production, “Bagdad Galère,” including one, above, filmed at a regatta in Baghdad last year.
The videos open a window onto the challenges still faced by Iraq’s athletes, even as years of war give way to a tense period of relative calm. According to The Associated Press, Iraq’s sports institutions are underfinanced, and their officials often stand accused of sectarian bias and corruption.
That background gives the short videos a feeling of “Cool Runnings” with a serious geopolitical edge.
In the past, Mr. Nozad bumped bodies with his oars as he trained up and down a constricted stretch of the river, so as not to pass to close to jittery guards around government buildings. Now, things are a little better. “The security is still difficult, but it is safer now to move than before and we get better results, because I train more,” he told The A.P. this year.
The French filmmakers, who are financing their project through a combination of small donations and corporate sponsorship, have drawn attention to their work in France, where several news organizations, including the magazine Nouvel Observateur and the news site Rue89, have been posting updates, as well as in Britain, where the 2012 Games will begin in a few months, and in the United States.
Members of the Iraqi team, along with the film crew, traveled to the United States to train in 2010. As Sports Illustrated wrote at the time:
The trip to the States came to fruition after Bill Engeman and Bruce Smith, two coaches on this side of the pond, traveled to Iraq to see the rowers there. Told that it would not be safe for them to conduct a clinic on the Tigris River, they instead went to a more remote training site in the Kurdish sector of the country on Lake Dokan that was considered more secure and less dangerous. On that trip, they arranged the Iraqis’ journey to Princeton. Smith, a coach from Boston-based Community Rowing, was among those on the trip. “I’m just a stupid rowing coach,” he says, “but when you consider what our servicemen and women are doing over there, the least we could do is show a fraction of the courage that they show every day in order to generate some goodwill.”
The trip attracted media attention, transforming the rowers into mini-celebrities and, in the process, turning off their Iraqi national rowing chief, Abdul Salam, who deemed all the coverage bad for training. (Mr. Salam is the father of Ahmed, one of the rowers being profiled by the filmmakers.)

Switching coaches may have had an effect on the athletes, but whether they qualify for the London Games this summer will ultimately depend on the athletes’ determination. Mr. Nozad recently started a family, and Mr. Jebur, at 35, is getting old to compete in the grueling sport.

Latest Iraqi related news from: www.baghdadinvest.com