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Emerging markets: UK firms urged to take up work in Iraq

Opportunities for British practices to work in Iraq are growing all the time as it rebuilds itself and stability improves, especially in the north, reports Greg Pitcher

The rebuilding of Iraq is finally gathering momentum almost 10 years after US-led forces invaded the country in March 2003, according to AJ research.

While Baghdad still suffers frequent car bomb attacks, a level of stability has returned in much of the country, particularly the autonomous northern province of Kurdistan, and major Iraqi clients have urged UK architects to take advantage of $280 billion of construction work in the country.

Earlier this year Iraqi-born Zaha Hadid landed the design of the Central Bank of Iraq’s headquarters in Baghdad (pictured). The bank’s project manager Noaman Muna said that this spoke volumes about the country’s ambitions.

She said: ‘The building of the headquarters of such an economic institution will send a strong message that Iraq is proceeding with its rebuilding. The process may be slow, but the rewards could be significant for UK architects.’

Zaha Hadid's designs for the new Central Bank of Iraq

Zaha Hadid’s designs for the new Central Bank of Iraq

She added: ’[The appointment of] Zaha Hadid, working in conjunction with many international consultants, will say a lot about the opportunities in Iraq.’

Although the £10 billion Broadway Malyan-masterplanned Sadr City in the Iraqi capital is on hold, the value of projects planned or underway in the country is almost double that in early 2010.

London-based Make is working with contractors to build the Hewa Children’s Hospital in Kurdistan to the practice’s designs. Hospital chairman Ranj Shawis said the region had been boosted by a change in the law allowing Kurdistan to keep a proportion of its oil revenues.

‘The Kurdistan government’s priorities are education and health,’ he said. ‘There is a lot of investment in infrastructure and encouragement for foreign funds.’

He added that Iraqi clients welcome the chance to work with UK architects. ‘We are pleased to have UK architects because of the standard and the transparency.’

Shawis said UK practices could market themselves more proactively in the fast-developing Iraqi market. ‘UK firms need to sell themselves as well as the Americans. They are not as boastful but if there is liquidity, whoever is there will get the job.’

He added: ‘There is a Kurdistan Regional Government office in London that organises for businesses to go to Kurdistan. They should take advantage of it.’

Make director Gary Rawlings said: ‘Kurdistan is safe – it took us a while to appreciate that. In the rest of Iraq there are security concerns. The risk is town by town so we would do due diligence.

‘Kurdistan is safe – it took us a while to appreciate that’

‘There are many projects they need to get infrastructure in place for, and they are able to finance them with oil revenue.’

Rawlings added that Kurds admire the UK for its role in enforcing a no-fly zone over the region during the first Gulf War in the early 1990s.

‘I can’t understand the lack of British firms tendering for projects alongside US and German ones,’ he said. ‘The Kurds tell me they would love to work with us.’

Ken Shuttleworth’s practice Make his working on these proposals for Kurdistan’s first children’s hospital

Ken Shuttleworth’s practice Make his working on these proposals for Kurdistan’s first children’s hospital

Robin Brown, managing director of emerging markets for Atkins in the Middle East, told the AJ there was a desire among Iraqis to work with UK designers and that a lack of investment for three decades had caused a backlog of vital projects.

‘There is a lot of work in Baghdad but also in Basra and Maysan Province,’ he said. ‘There are other cities where religious tourism is growing so they need hotels and leisure facilities.’

He added that Atkins was happy to send staff to Kurdistan but was carrying out work in the rest of the Iraq from Dubai.

Alex Lambeth, director of membership body British Expertise warned UK firms to do their homework. He said: ‘We were made extremely welcome - the region is very keen to work with British architects. Much of the work is currently done by Turkish companies but there is a very positive view of the British after the first Gulf War.’

‘Anyone going to Kurdistan is going to enter a long process of reputation and relationship building as is usual in the region,’ warned Lambeth. ‘Architects need to research projects carefully and visit the country. They must be competitive on price but there is an appreciation of the value they can bring, so practices must demonstrate their strengths.’

Generally only British Expertise’s larger members are working in southern Iraq.

‘With security costs it is very expensive to engage with southern Iraq if you are not a big project management company,’ added Lambeth.

Jesdev Saggar, managing director, capital projects advisory at Deloitte Middle East, said the housing sector was likely to see a boom along with infrastructure.

She said: ‘There is a shortage of quality housing, yet demand is fuelled by a rise in net wealth.’

RIBA head of international Marcus Deeley said the institution should be the first port of call for practices looking to work in Iraq. ‘The RIBA Gulf Chapter is well established to help explore opportunities for members already in Iraq and those considering working there.’

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