After years as a battleground, investment boom lifts Iraqi city
Now Iraqi investors who had focused on projects outside the country for the past 18 years are bringing some of their profits back to Anbar, as foreign companies take a fresh look at a largely rebuilt city after the fight against the Islamic State.
While some residential areas are still in ruins, government-funded buildings have transformed the city. Instead of streets cluttered with potholes and hanging electrical wire nests ubiquitous in other Iraqi cities, Ramadi now has a revamped road system, underground power cables and centralized government offices.
“We came back to destruction and decided that all new construction should be done in a new way to keep up with modern town planning,” said Anbar province governor Ali Farhan. He said that after suffering so much destruction, the people of Anbar are no longer willing to tolerate the extremist rhetoric that allowed ISIS to gain a foothold here.
When ISIS captured Ramadi in 2015, the poor of this city of half a million people fled into the desert to a squalid makeshift camp for displaced Iraqis. Government authorities, worried about ISIS infiltration – a suspicion that lingered in the past – prevented most of the displaced from Ramadi from entering the capital, Baghdad, a few kilometers away.
But many Ramadi residents who could afford it moved to the Iraqi Kurdistan region in the north, or left the country for Jordan or Turkey. On their return, young people in particular wanted the malls, cafes and hotels to which they had become accustomed. In Ramadi’s shiny new supermarkets, Starbucks coffee and gluten-free flour line the shelves.
“It will be a recreation center, not just a hotel,” said Maher Othman, the Iraqi entrepreneur of the new Ramadi hotel, which does not yet have a name. He said his company, Jazirat al-Atta, plans to spend at least $ 20 million of the total construction cost on Moroccan-style swimming pools, restaurants, shops and spa.