Huge construction opportunity in Iraq. But at what price?

Dr Saleh Muhammed al-Mutlaq, Iraq’s deputy prime minister responsible for reconstruction, talks about his country’s need for foreign construction expertise
Dr Saleh Muhammed al-Mutlaq who believes the vast majority of Iraqi people want an end to division: “We have lived together for centuries before”.
By Gary Wright
Thu 06 Jun 2013 09:33 AM

Companies which get involved in Iraq’s rebuilding now can expect to be in a strong position to win government contracts in the future, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister has told Construction Week.

Dr Saleh Muhammed al-Mutlaq was speaking after a two-day conference in Dubai on 22 & 23 May on Iraqi infrastructure and construction, held at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

He had a clear and honest message to contractors looking at his country in an exclusive interview: ”Things are not that fantastic in Iraq… they (contractors)  may find some risks, but they should compare it to the future opportunities – get there first and you will have better chances in the future.”

Dr Mutlaq, who is the deputy in charge of reconstruction and services, said: “Iraq needs over two million houses or flats for people and this is a project that can be of interest for people to come and work.”

He is aware that many big construction firms are looking at his country’s huge contracts that will be offered as it rebuilds and becomes a major oil producer, but he was realistic about the security risks.

“Iraq is going to build a huge number of roads, bridges,” he said. “There is a need for power generation, transmission and distribution, with a lot of money contributed here. And agriculture – Iraq of course is an agricultural place.

“Huge investment is also going to be done in land reclamation, water distribution, seed technology, other sorts of technologies for seedlings and harvesting.  Also the industrial projects for the agricultural projects.”

There is plenty of money available now and in the future he said. “We used to have a lack of money before.”

But now his country will be spending millions of dollars on its rebuilding programme and it “is going to be increased every year”.

“Oil production is going to be increased. Within three years we are going to reach six million barrels a day, which is a huge quantity and it can contribute a lot to the Iraqi economy.”

The doctor who has held the position of deputy prime minister since December 2010 is head of the Iraqi Front for Naional Dialogue, the fifth largest political list in Iraq’s parliament.

He believes his countrymen have had enough of war and infighting and want to reunite and the 65-year-old doctor, who obtained his PhD from Aberdeen in 1971, places huge faith in the coming elections. He believes will move his country forward and he talks confidently about a more “mature democracy” saying that the divisions between politicians did not reflect the views of ordinary Iraqi citizens.

He said: “If you ask the Iraqis, they will say they want a united country. We have lived together for centuries before. But politicians themselves, due to their isolation, suffered a negative attitude. Even if we are suffering and there is oppression, we want to live together and we will give some time until it is more mature. Politicians will realise they cannot run the country on their own.”

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He felt that next year’s parliamentary elections would bring change to his country.

“I think there is some sort of hesitation from the foreign investors to come to Iraq, mainly because of the political stability and secondly security,” he said.

“During the coming election, things are going to be different. New leaders are going to be seen. Some of those leaders you see now will still be there, but they will not be as influential as they are now. The whole political process is going to be more mature. In the past, one sect is looking that the government is their government... I think they realise now this cannot be done.”

The doctor was also surprisingly open about corruption in his country.

“If  you have politicians with determination to end corruption in the country, we will do it. Now because of the conflict between the different parties, because most of the leaders are corrupt, so each one is afraid of the other one.”

He explained that fighting corruption is difficult if the politicians involved are trying to keep their job: “Bribes are major things among the top level of the administrators, but there is also the other side, the daily sides of corruption, when you pass your papers, then you have to get this and that one, which was really not being seen in Iraq before.

“In 1970s Iraq - I compare this with Japan with regard to the corruption - you never saw the corruption in the country. Even if you gave a guy a tip, he would not have accepted it. But after the sanctions, the war with Iran, things have changed.”

For the future he wants foreign companies to invest and to take a chance on his country that he forecasts will change.

He said: “I do not think we can simply jump to the place we think Iraq ought to be. We need to repair infrastructure which was being destroyed by the Americans. Electricity: a lot of projects need to be done. The priority is electricity, we start with electricity. Go on increasing the oil to have the money. When the electricity is finished, then you can go on with the other projects.”

He also wants to see the return of professionals and academics who fled the country and some reversal of the De-Baathification law (the removal of senior figures associated with Saddam Hussein)  “which isolated a huge number of efficient people”.

He said: “[We suffer from] the lack of elite, professional people because most of those were not allowed to take up positions because of the political system, or they run out of the country because of the political and security situation. The laws that were being put at that time, especially the De-Baathification law, which isolated a huge number of efficient people, have driven people away. They were trained outside Iraq, they obtained their PhD degrees outside Iraq. When these laws will be changed and people are allowed to take their proper posts, I think things will be different.”

Dr Saleh Muhammed was talking with Gary Wright & Oscar Wendel.

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