UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
IRAQ: Interview with Housing and Construction Minister
BAGHDAD, 24 December 2003 (IRIN) - Baker Jabor, a civil engineer and Iraq's new housing and construction minister, expects to disburse more than US $533 million in the coming months for various infrastructure projects around the country, including several large road-building projects.
Under former President Saddam Hussein, the housing and construction ministry's primary function was to build the more than 70 lavish palaces and government buildings around Iraq. In an interview with IRIN in the capital, Baghdad, he said internally displaced people were high on the list of his priorities.
QUESTION: I understand you will build new housing for people displaced from their homes?
ANSWER: We talked to United Nations-Habitat officials now in Amman concerning housing. There are experts from the ministries of planning and public works working on it as well. We expect construction companies from Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates to build 3,500 units of housing in Najaf, Maysan Governorate, Basra, Diwaniyah and Hillah. We actually have no plan to solve the crisis of people who have been forced out of their houses, but the private sector will contribute. Those new buildings will solve the housing crisis.
Q: Where will the housing be located and how much will it cost?
A: We want to put houses by the highways since the streets of Baghdad are so crowded. New housing will be built in the suburbs outside of Baghdad. We’re looking at sites at the former military Rashid camp and the former military airport. There should be more clinics, police stations and schools in these areas. We have a very ambitious plan to use these areas for housing, or they could also have parks for children, public gardens or football stadiums.
Q: How will families pay for the new housing?
A: We are asking foreign banks to help us. They are capable of lending money, so people can buy apartments like those found in other countries. I have been living for 20 years abroad, so I know what a distinguished building should look like. Here in Baghdad, you will see modern buildings go up.
Q: What other construction projects are you doing?
A: After meeting with officials in Iran, we decided to build a 'pilgrim’s highway' between Iran and Iraq, which will be supported by foreign companies. We may also get money from the Madrid donors' conference for the highway. Religious pilgrims will also pay a transit tax when they use the highway. We also agreed with foreign companies in Turkey to build an express-way from north to south, which would be very useful to move goods [on].
Q: Are you working with the Coalition Provisional Authority on these contracts or with the US military, or both?
A: Many countries attending the Madrid conference in October pledged $33 million to us as a gift. By February, you will start to see the flow of this money. This is expected to be money for in-kind materials or machinery.
Q: Do you expect to get money from the US Congress for your projects?
A: The re-formed Ministry of Planning will control the $18.6 billion [approved by Congress for Iraq's reconstruction]. We expect to get $500 million for road and bridge projects, but there is nothing in the budget for housing. We asked for it, but they didn’t give it to us, because they are thinking to solve the issue through the private sector.
Q: Did you find any leftover construction project money from Saddam Hussein’s time?
A: The former government had too much money in other Arab countries. Much of it is in Lebanon, some of it in private banks. We’re afraid the private sector is using this money, so we have to track it down. There are also hundreds of millions in the names of Uday and Qusay [Saddam's sons, who were killed by US troops]. It’s not under the name of the Iraqi government, so it’s hard for us to find.
Q: What happened to that money?
A: This money legally belongs to the Iraqi government, so there’s no doubt the minister of finance will pay a visit to Lebanon and other countries to find out what is happening to it. There are some companies that Uday Hussein invested in. Every country in the world needs to take this issue up, because it’s for the rebuilding of our country.
Q: What is your top priority for the future?
A: We have a great amount of money in neighbouring countries, and we are negotiating to get it back. This will help Iraq to breathe again, to stand alongside its neighbours as a sovereign country.
Q: You recently met with other ministers in countries around the region. What did you find out?
A: We went to Tehran, Damascus and Amman. It was the first official visit by new leaders in Iraq to those countries. We met with ministers of foreign affairs of those countries and discussed continuing protocol between Iraq and its neighbours. In Iran, we also met the minister of housing and construction. In Turkey, we talked to the ministers of housing, trade and industry. This is very important because it’s a legal acknowledgement that they recognise the [US-appointed Iraqi] Governing Council.
Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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