Map of Wasit province
Iraq’s government has announced a massive program this year to build one million housing units by 2014. That will go a long way to meeting the country’s needs if completed successfully. The small town of Aziziyah in Wasit province however, provides an anecdotal warning about the problems authorities may face in accomplishing their goals.
Aziziyah is a small town in southern Iraq that was once plagued by Shiite militias, but today faces struggling farmers, and a lack of services such as education, health care, and electricity. The government has ambitious redevelopment plans that include building a new school, hospital, park and apartments. The problem is that planning rules and the division of power between the province and central government are unclear, there is a lack of technical know how and coordination, and a need for foreign assistance. First, the development project was started in Baghdad with no involvement by the town itself. There are no population statistics for the area either, which could complicate what to build and how much to provide to meet the people’s needs. The town’s top urban planner also said that the government lacks the know how to complete the project without help from foreign companies. Russian, Spanish, and Chinese companies have all expressed interest in doing business in Wasit, but are put off by the lack of security, corruption, and obtuse regulations. Some of the projects that have already been started are stalled because no one knows who has the authority to continue on with them because the separation of powers between the provincial council in Wasit and the central government in the capital is so unclear. Finally, the mayor of Aziziyah warned that there might not be enough money for all the plans. He said that money for projects had been cut in 2009. The town was allotting 20% of the city’s budget to reconstruction this year to try to make up the difference, but it was not stated whether that would be enough.
Housing is one major need Iraqis have been lacking for years now due to the successive wars and sanctions the country has faced. The government’s housing plan comes as a welcomed announcement then. The problem for Iraq is whether it can accomplish its lofty goals or not. As with many things, the bureaucracy is a major impediment. Iraq has a mix of laws and regulations that date from the Saddam era to the Coalition Provisional Authority to the current government, many of which contradict each other. There is also a lack of trained officials, as well as corruption that threatens to skim off millions from any large project started in the country. These are all daunting challenges the government has to face as it embarks on this huge development program.
Sands, Phil and Latif, Nizar, “Aziziyah’s realities hard to pave over,” The National, 4/24/10