Iraq’s gateway for business
The relatively secure Kurdistan region is a place where businessmen need not fear for their lives, or their investments.
April 18, 2010 3:32 by Tanya Goudsouzian
But in recent years there has been growing frustration among residents of the Kurdish region that none of this has resulted in bringing significant qualitative improvements to their lives. Critics say that vast amounts of money are being poured into projects that do not meet the immediate needs of the population, exacerbating the existing disparities between the rich minority and poor majority.
Earning average monthly salaries of $500, most Iraqi Kurds can only dream of patronizing one of the fancy new hotels that have cropped up to cater mainly to foreigners and Kurdish elites. In fact, analysts have credited the emergence last year of the Gorran (Change) movement – a de facto opposition party – as a consequence of widespread popular discontent with the government’s handling of the economy.
In Suleimanieh (pictured), the main complaint is that neighboring Erbil has attracted the lion’s share of foreign investment. Clusters of commercial zones in Erbil, such as English Village and American Village, house the regional representation offices of the likes of Ernst & Young, Duty Free, and LG Electronics, while Suleimanieh has been left in the dust.
There have also been allegations of corruption and claims that the budget has been unevenly distributed among the two main cities of northern Iraq. Local businessmen have panned the region’s investment laws as overly advantageous to foreign investors at the expense of the local business community.
Nevertheless, many Kurds are returning from years spent in exile to take advantage of the opportunities. Kamal Mustafa, project director at Farouk Holding Group, which is building the Grand Millennium Suleimanieh, recently returned to Iraq after 14 years in America. He is well aware that although the road ahead will not be easy, it may bring great rewards.
“We are aware that some of the projects may seem as if they may not immediately benefit the average Kurd, but they will create jobs and attract further investment to the region, with all of our projects we try to give something back to the community,” Mustafa said.
Farouk Holding is also building several low-to-medium cost housing complexes and a private hospital. The latter will be a step toward reversing the trend whereby Iraqi Kurds go to Iran or Jordan for specialist care. But Mustafa highlights that, in addition to the creation of jobs, what the region currently needs is to increase local expertise.