Iraq City Is Hot for Housing as Foreign Money Flows In
By Spencer Swartz 21 May 2007
Grand ambitions and piles of foreign money are quickly transforming this once-neglected part of northern Iraq into a budding hot spot for big houses and swanky hotels -- despite the threat of violence.
Exclusive real estate is part of a build-it-and-they-will-come strategy by the autonomous Kurdish government that governs this region.
In the closely guarded English Village -- a tony housing complex here in the Kurdish capital that will have a school, supermarket and recreation center -- all 410 units, ranging in price from $130,000 to $160,000, have sold. And the date set for buyers to move in is still a year away.
Abdulrahim Ali-Adib, a manager at Lebanese contracting firm Arabian Construction Co., says the first $5 million house in the region sold in recent weeks in Erbil, the biggest of the three Kurdish provinces that collectively have about five million people. Mr. Adib is overseeing a development dubbed Dream City in Erbil that will have 1,200 units with as many as 11 bedrooms, pools and gourmet kitchens. Prices on some units top $700,000. Shopping malls and office complexes also are popping up.
The Kurdish government will host about 100 United Arab Emirates' companies, including Dubai property giant Emaar Properties, in the next two months to pitch investment offers. At a March gathering in Dubai, Kurdish ministers talked up investors on the attractions of working in Kurdistan, as locals call it.
Foreign investors can benefit from a 10-year tax holiday for businesses, 100% land ownership and international arbitration for settling contract disputes. Much of the construction in the region is being undertaken by companies from neighboring Turkey and Middle Eastern countries.
The aim of the Kurdish government is to lure foreign money with incentives to encourage outsiders with job skills and know-how to take up residence, much the way Dubai has done for more than a decade, officials say. Dubai, a flashy and pricey real-estate and trading hub, is one of the seven United Arab Emirates.
Where Iraq Works
By Andrew Lee Butters / Erbil, Iraq 5 April 2007
Like residents of Berlin during the airlift, inhabitants of Erbil—the capital of the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq—get a little flutter in their hearts when they see planes coming in to land. Built after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, Erbil's international airport is a symbol to Kurds that their years of isolation as an oppressed ethnic minority are over, and that the Kurdish region, unlike the rest of Iraq, is open for business
When I first traveled to the Kurdish North in August of 2004 to escape the heat and violence of Baghdad, the so-called "Switzerland of Iraq" was disappointing in just one respect: summers on the high plains of Erbil are almost as scorching. Otherwise, Kurdistan was a refuge. In Baghdad, journalists had begun hiring security entourages and erecting guarded compounds. Up north in Erbil, as a visiting American, I was practically given keys to the city. I did my reporting by foot or hailed taxis from the street, spent my evenings in beer gardens or pizza parlors, and slept on the roof of my apartment with the sound of crickets rather than Kalashnikovs in the cooling night air.
Since then the differences between Kurdistan and Iraq proper have become even more dramatic. The plains around Erbil—once a glaring semidesert wasteland—are exploding with luxury housing developments, such as a "British Village" that looks like a gated California suburb, and Dream City, which will supposedly have its own conference center, supermarket and American-style school. The Turkish developers of Naz City, a high-rise condominium complex, are trying to sell house-proud Kurds on modern apartment living. An American company wants to build Iraq's first ski resort in the mountains near the Turkish and Iranian borders. While citizens in Baghdad struggle to survive, a sign in Erbil declares that the city is "Striving for Perfection."
The Kurds' most important achievement has been to keep their region free of Iraq's insurgency and sectarian warfare with their army of 70,000 peshmerga soldiers. Not a single American soldier has been killed in Kurdistan since the start of the war in Iraq, and there hasn't been a major terrorist attack in Erbil since June 2005.
Just four years since the fall of Saddam, most Kurds may be willing to remain a part of Iraq for now, but few want their destinies to remain tied to a poor, failing state beset by sectarian carnage. Over time, the push for a free and independent Kurdistan may become irresistible. In a bid to manage expectations, the Kurdish leadership has introduced a new slogan, echoed in mosques and newspaper editorials: "Be Grateful." But eventually even gratitude runs out.
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