“This project will be a source of pride and a source of income for thousands of families,” Prime Minister Barzani said at a commencement ceremony
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani kicked off the nearly $3 billion “Downtown Erbil” project on Sunday, calling the venture that is estimated to create 35,000 jobs and transform the face of the Kurdish capital, “a milestone for the Kurdistan Region.”
“This project will be a source of pride and a source of income for thousands of families,” Barzani said at a commencement ceremony with Mohamed Alabbar, head of Dubai’s Emaar Properties, which is leading the project and hopes to finish it in around five years.
Barzani said that the 133-acre “Downtown Erbil” -- which envisions the capital’s largest shopping mall, five-star hotels, apartment towers, schools and healthcare facilities -- “is a milestone for the Kurdistan Region.”
He added that the development marks a turn in Kurdistan, a three-province autonomous Kurdish enclave of five million in northern Iraq whose economy is booming and which posted a whopping 12-percent economic growth last year.
“Downtown Erbil will be a true hub for business and tourism in Erbil,” Alabbar told a gathering of government ministers, foreign diplomats, Erbil governor Nawzad Hadi and many businessmen attending the inauguration ceremony.
“It will touch around $3 billion,” Alabbar said about the cost of the development.
Asked about luxury developments like Downtown Erbil that have been cited by many Kurds as a major source of inflation and high living costs that make them unaffordable to the average Kurd, Alabbar said that was nothing new.
“Show me a project in Los Angeles, Singapore or New York that hasn’t done that,” he said, adding that cooperation by the Kurdistan government would ensure that the development’s overall impact remains positive.
Barzani, meanwhile, added that the percentage of people living below the poverty line in Kurdistan had dropped from 5 percent in May to 3.7 percent presently, citing research done by the United Nations and the US-based Rand Corporation.
“We need to make the country into a new Region and can achieve this with the support of all Kurds working as a team,” Barzani said, especially emphasizing the need for the youth to take their roles head on and not rely on the government to do everything.
“Some think the government should be doing everything, it’s time for you, our dear youth to work for a better Kurdistan,” he said.
The Kurdistan Region -- which is home to some five million Kurds, small numbers of Christians and Arabs from other parts of violent Iraq and more recently some 250,000 Syrian refugees -- is often dubbed the next Dubai for its incredible economic growth.
Oil companies from the United States, Russia and next-door Turkey are working on major exploration and pipeline projects to extract and export the region’s generous energy resources. Major international carriers like Dubai’s Emirates Airline report record passenger growth on flights into Erbil’s new and modern airport.