Leisure and Tourism in Iraq

Multi-Billion Dollars Needed to Keep Water Flowing

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ibrahim Saleh.

Multi-Billion Dollar Budget Needed To Keep Iraq’s Water Flowing

In Baghdad, locals have been fretting about dramatic falls in the level of the Tigris river. The government has a plan. Only problem is, that plan requires billions in funding that Iraq does not have.

The passengers in the small bus all peer out anxiously as the vehicle crosses the Sanak bridge – the name used by locals for the Rashid bridge which spans the Tigris river in the middle of Baghdad. They’re not worried about the bridge though, they’re worried about the water levels.

“It’s actually very low,” one passenger says to another.

“We should expect that,” his travelling companion replies, “they are trying to drain the water – and the life – out of Iraq.”

Salah al-Jibouri is the 47-year old driver of the minibus. The passengers call him Uncle Salah. And he’s been driving this route for years. At the beginning of every Iraqi summer, he always hears these same conversations about the amount of water in the Tigris river. But this time, he says resignedly, it’s more serious and people are really worried.

Possibly with good reason. At the time the bus is crossing the bridge, it had only been 24 hours since the Turkish government announced that they had started filling their huge Ilisu Dam to the north. Critics have been talking about the damage that stopping the flow of water in Turkey will do to Iraq for years – but now the problem is clear for all to see, as the Tigris river levels have fallen away dramatically.

Locals could talk about little else. Some Iraqis posted pictures of residents who had been able to walk across the river, which usually requires a boat or a bridge to get over. They were also upset with their own government, which seemed to be confused as to what exactly was going on.

Turkish authorities quickly moved to calm the situation with the Turkish ambassador to Iraq saying that it would take nearly a  year to fill the Ilisu dam’s reservoir and the Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan announcing that the filling of the dam had been postponed.

The Iraqi minister for water resources, Hassan al-Janabi, said that the two countries had agreed upon a way for Turkey to fill the dam more slowly, and without stopping as much water flowing into Iraq.

But the problem is far from resolved. Baghdad locals used to worry about flooding in the city during the wetter months. But now, floods are the last thing they need fear. Instead it is the dams being built by neighbouring countries – including Turkey, Iran and Syria – as well as climate change, that are reducing the water flow into their city.

Over two-thirds of Iraq’s water comes from tributaries it shares with neighbouring countries.

“After these dams were built, Iraq’s share of water decreased by more than 45 percent,” says Zafer Abdullah, a consultant for Iraq’s ministry of water resources.

Iraq has agreements with its neighbours about water flow and how much water the different nations need to share. But some of the treaties are not being adhered to, with, for example, the Iranian government reporting that it cannot stick to a previous deal because climate change has decreased the amount of water to be shared.

The solution would not be to build more dams, the Iraqi ministry of water resources, has stated. Iraq’s own dams are underutilized and would store billions more cubic litres, if they could.

The Iraqi authorities say they have a strategy to see them through until 2035, that would provide water for things like drinking and agriculture. It takes into account the decreased amount of water due to climate change as well as the potential for neighbouring countries to keep blocking or diverting rivers.

However, as al-Janabi says, for the plan to work, it requires 24 “urgent and essential” points to be resolved, at the cost of up to US$3 billion. And that is extra funding the Iraqi national budget cannot afford right now.

(Picture credit: Mohammad Huzam)

Kuwait’s Bu Khamseen Group to Develop Religious Sites

Mr. Jawad Ahmed Bu Khamseen, Chairman of the Kuwaiti Bu Khamseen Holding Group, said that Iraq represents a great gateway to religious tourism, which is an important pillar for Muslims in most parts of the world.

This important tourism sector has not been invested properly during the past periods of Iraq’s history where millions of visitors wish to carry out these holy rites annually. He added in his speech during the Iraq investment and reconstruction forum, held on April 26th  in Baghdad and after signing three memorandums of understanding with the National Investment Commission to set up hotels and shopping centers (Baghdad, Karbala, Samarra) that Iraq is a promising country and has the potential and huge economic resources that provide a fertile environment for successful investment and that the country has been exposed to successive wars, political and economic problems which contributed to the decline. Iraqi people and its political and economic leadership and management will overcome these issues.

He pointed out that the group was able, despite the difficulties and obstacles encountered during the past years represented by the security conditions and ISIS entry into Iraq and economic potential of the country being exhausted and wasted, to continue and move forward in projects represented by this grand edifice to serve visitors to the holy shrines in Iraq where The Grand Commercial Complex will be opened with two hotels (five stars) and operating in Najaf province at the end of this year.

He called on all investors to enter Iraq and participate in their investments according to their specialization especially after all obstacles and difficulties were removed and after Iraq has become a safe and stable investment environment.

(Source: NIC)

US returns thousands of Ancient Artifacts to Iraq

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

Many of the tablets can be shown to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig. The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period. Two clay cones are inscribed with royal inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Lagash II periods (mid-third millennium BCE). The clay bullae include artifacts believed to be of Parthian or Sasanian date (late 2nd cent. BCE – early 7th cent. AD).

“These pieces are very important to us and they should be returned home to Iraq, to the rightful owner of these pieces,” said Ambassador of Iraq to the United States Fareed Yasseen.

The artifacts returned were initially intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The shipping labels on these packages falsely described the cuneiform tablets as tile samples.

“CBP is honored to have played a role, together with ICE, in the return of these national treasures to their rightful owner, the Republic of Iraq.  In doing so, we ensure the protection of this priceless cultural heritage and secure a precious, tangible link to the past for future generations,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner Ian Saunders.

After a review of the items and their documentation, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agents, in conjunction with Assistant U.S. Attorneys at United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) conducted interviews of a number of Hobby Lobby employees between January and June of 2016 which led to the discovery of a deliberate intent by employees of the company to avoid using a customs broker for the artifacts related to this transaction.

“The Republic of Iraq, standing on the land that was once home to the storied city-states and kingdoms of Mesopotamia, has a celebrated heritage as a cradle of civilization,” stated U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue.  “We are proud to have played a role in removing these pieces of Iraq’s history from the black market of illegally obtained antiquities and restoring them to the Iraqi people.”

Wednesday’s event was the first repatriation of cultural property to Iraq since March 2015, when ICE returned ancient antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects, including the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II. ICE has returned more than 1200 items to Iraq in five repatriations since 2008.

ICE has returned over 8,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th-18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia, and two Baatar dinosaur fossils to Mongolia, antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq, ancient artifacts, including a mummy’s hand, to Egypt, and most recently royal seals valued at $1,500,000 to the Republic of Korea.

Learn more about ICE’s cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete the online tip form.

(Source: ICE)

$234m Resort to be built in Basra

By John Lee.

Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi [Allibi, Luiebi] (pictured) has announced the construction of a tourism and entertainment resort in Basra, to “honor and appreciate its role to support the national economy as a generous oil governorate.

The $234-million Muftiya City project has been awarded to an international holding company he named as Daiko.

The land to be used for the project is owned by the oil products distribution company.

According to information previously released by the Ministry of Oil, the 38-acre water city will included a waterpark, a leisure resort for families, and an aquarium. There will also be a zoo over 52 acres, a closed football stadium, Olympic swimming pool, sports and entertainment facilities, and restaurants.

(Source: Ministry of Oil)

Video: Iraq’s Football Fans enjoy First Int’l Match since Ban

From AFP. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi’s football fans enjoy their first international match in over 20 years, after FIFA lifted a ban on the war-torn country.

Iraq was prohibited from hosting international games since the early 1990s until FIFA ruled in March to bring it back into the full international fold.

View on YouTube

Tikrit turns Saddam’s Palaces into Tourist Attractions

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Ghazwan Hassan al-Jibouri.

The despised ex-leader of Iraq built luxurious palaces with hundreds of rooms in Tikrit, near his hometown. Now the local council wants them turned into money-making museums.

Some might say the formerly-luxurious palaces built by Iraqi autocrat, Saddam Hussein, in Tikrit are a metaphor for how things have developed since 2003.

Tikrit is often known as the “city of palaces” due to the fact that Saddam Hussein, who came from a nearby village, built dozens of luxurious residences and halls, often along the banks of the Tigris river here. It has been suggested there are anywhere between 60 and 136 such mansions in the area. The largest are well known and often hark back to ancient Iraqi or religious history. For example, one, which has 360 rooms, is called Dhu Al Fiqar, after a mythical sword in Islamic history and the buildings are sword-shaped.

The gardens are planted with trees brought from all over Iraq and there are miniature lakes and swimming pools galore.

But today, many of the palaces and their facilities stand in ruins. They’ve been occupied by different military forces and put up for sale. Local authorities and the federal government have both failed to preserve them even though public interest in them is high. Today they are more like ruins or rubbish dumps, and their state of repair has only worsened since the city was occupied by the extremist group known as the Islamic State in 2014.

“The presidential palaces have been offered for sale more than once,” explains Tami Saab, deputy director of the Salahaddin Investment Commission. “But the main reason that investors are scared to put money into them is because they are occupied by militia groups and security forces, many of whom have refused to leave the buildings, both before and after the Islamic State group was here.”

Because the palaces are isolated and easy to defend, they are still often used by security forces. And, as Saab says, the military men are refusing to vacate the premises even though the local government has asked them to.

The parliamentary committee on economics in Baghdad has said they would put the development of the palaces out to tender, inviting bids much as they do for Iraq’s oilfields. The bidding would include former palaces of the Iraqi dictator right around the country, not just in Tikrit.

In announcing this plan, the committee noted that there were 136 palaces in and around Tikrit itself, some of them designed by international architects, boasting everything from unique security features such as walls made to resist heavy weapons, to rare marble, pools and vast interior spaces.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi security forces and militias have been in the presidential palace complexes since April 2015, Fadhil al-Dujaili, a member of Salahaddin’s provincial council, told NIQASH. “The complex is now closed and most of the palaces were destroyed either by the Islamic State group or by air strikes against them.”

But he still has hope for the palaces. They “could be used to generate tourist dollars for Tikrit,” he argues. “Especially as this area has further important sites, including the ‘Green Church’, one of the oldest churches in the Middle East, and the house where Salahaddin al-Ayubi [the first sultan of Egypt and Syria] was born. Many tourists also want to visit Saddam’s places to see how he lived. This could provide our people with hundreds of job opportunities,” he argues.

Even today there are dozens of visitors to certain sites within the palace complex and not all of them are for pleasant reasons. Many journalists, mourners and delegations come to visit one particular palace courtyard overlooking the Tigris. It was here that in June 2014, the extremists of the Islamic State executed an estimated 1,700 air force cadets in cold blood and threw some of their bodies into the river in what would come to be known as the Camp Speicher massacre. Other victims were buried in the palace grounds and search teams are still trying to excavate their bodies.

Dozens of families come here to mourn their lost sons. They leave flowers, paint the walls with henna and pray and cry on the site. The Iraqi government has made special arrangements to host the mourners here and has declared a special memorial day too.

While some locals believe the palaces of Saddam Hussein should be restored as part of Iraq’s chequered recent history, others believe that they should be left to their own disintegration, taking the bad memories with them.

One of Iraq’s Best-Loved Tourist Resorts Slowly Returns to Life

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Kamal al-Ayash.

One of the country’s best known resorts, where different community groups used to holiday together, is slowly coming back to life, after several years in the middle of extremist-held territory.

Once it was one of Iraq’s most important and beloved tourist resorts. First opened in the late 1970s, Lake Habbaniyah boasted a large hotel, complete with over 300 rooms and 500 holiday chalets. Located 60 kilometres out of Fallujah and west of Baghdad, it offered Iraqis a respite from heat and, at one stage, from violence. Because it didn’t matter what sect you were here, enamoured visitors told the AFP news agency back in 2012.

But the tropical dream holiday has gone through hard times. Over the past few years it mainly made headlines because the resort was being occupied by displaced Iraqis who had fled the extremist group known as the Islamic State. The extremist group had been in control of many of the areas around Habbaniyah.

Which is why it was such a surprise recently when Iraqi reporters touring the somewhat desolate resort heard loud music. It was coming from a small tour bus filled with young people. The bus was actually leaving Habbaniyah but the reporters, including NIQASH’s correspondent, were curious and approached the vehicle.

“When life started to return to Anbar after the defeat of the IS group, we started to think about organizing trips to Habbaniyah again,” the driver of the bus, Saleh al-Issawi, explained to the journalists. “Some friends came and suggested that I organize a trip because I’m from here. So this is it, our first trip!”

“And it was a successful one,” adds Ahmad al-Jibouri, a 32-year-old originally from Baghdad, who was also on the bus. “We are going to spread the word about this beautiful area now that it is secure again. We all own minivans and we usually take people from one province to another. So we’re going to try and start bringing people to this area in the weekends and make some extra money with the excursions.”


The resort as it looks today. (pics: Kamal al-Ayash)


Al-Jibouri believes the only way to bring peace back to Iraq is by bringing people together in places like this, where holiday makers co-existed happily. He also notes that various diners and shops on the road into Habbaniyah have re-opened and are ready for tourists once again. They too have started to promote the destination on social media like Facebook.

Ayoub al-Jumaili, 48, owns one of best-known souvenir and tourist-friendly stories on the route into the resort and he is looking forward to a good season. “Things are not yet quite as we would like them to be,” he concedes. “We are still lacking a few services and facilities but that is temporary,” states the resident of Fallujah.

Naturally tourists are also worried about security in the area. Anbar, a mostly-Sunni Muslim province, was home many fighters of the extremist Islamic State group, which controlled several of the province’s major cities. The Iraqi government managed to maintain security in Habbaniyah though.

The commander of the regiment in charge of protecting the Habbaniyah area insists that it is now safe. “The tourist town and the neighbouring villages were a safe haven for displaced people while most of the province was under the control of the extremists,” the officer, Uday al-Issawi, points out. “It wasn’t an easy thing to keep it secure and our main challenge was to keep the roads leading in here safe. Strict measures have been taken and protecting people who want to spend time here is a priority for leaders in Anbar and Baghdad,” he explains.


The resort’s amusement ark today, in disrepair.


Also feeling positive was Jakoub Taha, the head of the department of maintenance for the resort. He and his colleagues had been able to overcome significant challenges, he said, including moving the displaced Iraqis who had been living here out again and then repairing the needed facilities.

He said that he had been tempted to leave the job several times because it was so frustrating. Local investors had put money into the resort but thanks to instability caused by the security crisis between 2014 and now, they had virtually all abandoned their plans. The larger hotel complex, the lakeside beach, larger restaurants and theatres and the amusement park were all in disrepair, he said. But they had managed to fix up other parts of the resort and were ready for new guests, he said enthusiastically – that includes a number of the chalets, the beach and some of the smaller restaurants and shops.

More money is needed and may be some time in coming. “But our self-managed efforts have given us the inspiration to do more,” Taha told NIQASH. “It’s not perhaps quite as we would like it to be but we are moving forwards. We are bringing life back to this place.”


Entrance to the resort today.

Baghdad’s Quality of Living Ranking …

By John Lee.

Baghdad has again been ranked as the city with the world’s worst quality of living, according to the Mercer 2018 Quality of Living Survey.

Just ahead of it in the table of 231 cities are Sana’a in Yemen and Bangui in the Central African Republic.

Vienna again retains the top spot; Zurich and Auckland follow in second and third places, respectively.

Mercer evaluates local living conditions according to 39 different factors.

More information here.

(Source: Mercer)

FIFA Lifts Ban on Iraq Hosting Int’l Matches

By John Lee.

Soccer’s governing body FIFA has lifted its three-decade ban on Iraq hosting international football.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino is quoted as saying that this will allow international matches to be played in Erbil, Basra (pictured) and Karbala, where the security situation was considered to be “stable“, but not yet in Baghdad.

Iraq will host Qatar and Syria for a friendly tournament starting on March 21 in Basra.

(Sources: AFP, Reuters)