This 39-floor building is being touted as northern Iraq's take on Dubai's famous 'seven star' hotel. But critics say the development doesn't serve the needs of locals. It is being touted as Iraqi Kurdistan's answer to the Burj Al Arab, Dubai's 'seven-star' hotel. On paper, this statement might seem an aberration for those who are familiar with the dusty, small towns of northern Iraq. Yet the 39-floor concrete structure has been popularly dubbed "Burj Suleimanieh," even though the owner has already announced that it will be "The Grand Millennium Suleimanieh," affiliated with the high-end British franchise. Construction work began in June 2006. It was originally slated for completion by summer of 2010, but the deadline was pushed back by a year due to unforeseen logistical snags.
The relatively secure Iraqi Kurdistan region is still considered a war zone, says the project manager, Amer Jawad. It has been challenging to bring in the foreign expertise required to meet the lofty standards and specifications, he says. The hotel, designed by an Abu Dhabi-based architecture firm, will contain five executive floors, one revolving restaurant, and two swimming pools. Finding skilled labor was also an issue, says Jawad, adding that many of the workers had to be brought from Baghdad or India. None of this has thwarted the ambitions of Farouk Mala Mustafa, chairman of Farouk Holding Group and owner of telecom giant Asiacell, which, with an 8,000-strong staff, is the second biggest employer after the regional government. He also owns two cement factories, several other hotels, and a medium-cost housing complex called the Goyzha Project on the outskirts of the city. "[Mustafa] is doing this because he loves his city; his goal is to serve the people of Suleimanieh," says Warzer Sarwar, his nephew and the project's resident engineer. Critics of the project say that such a large-scale venture is premature and that $150 million could have been better spent on meeting the needs of the local populace, who earn average monthly salaries of $500 and make do with a 12-hour-daily ration of electricity.
Mustafa is also in the process of building a 400-bed hospital, which although it will be private, will fund a charitable foundation to help cover the needs of those who cannot afford health care. In recent years, there has been growing frustration among residents of Suleimanieh that the neighboring city of Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, has attracted the majority of foreign investment. Soaring silver towers now grace the urban landscape of Erbil, as well as clusters of de facto commercial zones, such as English Village and American Village, which house the regional representation offices of the likes of LG and Ernst & Young. Suleimanieh, residents say, has been left behind. Kamran Ahmed Abdulla, minister of planning and reconstruction for the Kurdistan Regional Government, said: "We are currently surveying Kurdistan's infrastructure, so we can evaluate the needs of the region. We can then develop a plan to improve our infrastructure." Additional reporting by Lara Fatah in Suleimanieh, Kurdistan