Kurdish tycoon builds ‘White House’ while developers’ talk is upbeat, despite problems

By a Correspondent:

Architect's representation of the new Erbil 'White House'

Architect’s representation of the new Erbil ‘White House’

Despite the economic impact of the war with ISIS and the long-running budget dispute between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraq central government, property developers have been talking optimistically to Bloomberg about economic prospects and a local tycoon has almost finished building a replica of the White House in Erbil. Shihab N. Shihab – who made his fortune from developing malls and other businesses during the boom of the past decade – is building a $21 million replica of the Washington White House. It is replete, says the Bloomberg article, “with layers of Italian 21-carat gold leaf covering banisters and ceilings and Greek marble columns that grace the entrance”.

Shibab says he is going one better than the US president because “I get to keep my bedroom for the rest of my life while Obama has to vacate it when his term ends”. The build is due for completion in four months and it will dominate Erbil’s exclusive ‘Dream City’ compound.  As a replica of the US president’s official residency it will possibly upstage Erbil’s other, PUK-controlled ‘White House of Erbil’

Bloomberg quotes Sarbast Mantik, information director at the Kurdistan Board of Investment, as saying that investment in real estate in the Kurdistan Region has reached $42 billion since 2006, including $13.3 billion in housing units, with $2.5 billion in property investments coming from the UAE and $1.34 billion from Turkish investors.

However, it also reports that some buyers have been unable to keep up payments on their new homes, partly due to the budget crisis which has led to months of salary delays for hundreds of thousands of public sector employees. It also says the ISIS offensive since June has frightened off Kurdish expatriate investors.

A spokesman for the Falcon Group – which is running the square-kilometre Empire World tower block building project in Erbil -said he is optimistic that the market will pick up again, although “There may be a little bit of delay with some of the (Empire World) projects and not the whole concept … People are more cautious about spending and investing the way they would normally be.”

Despite the challenges, some developers remain upbeat. “There’s a lot of money to be spent,” Tania Toma, associate for strategic consulting at Jones Lang LaSalle, a real estate company, told Bloomberg. “The Kurdish people are very cash rich and they want to spend money. People want to buy something now because they think there’s a potential for growth.”

While giving a tour of his 3,000-square-metre ‘White House’, Shibab also predicted that the problems will prove “temporary”.

2 Responses to Kurdish tycoon builds ‘White House’ while developers’ talk is upbeat, despite problems
  1. Barzan
    October 27, 2014 | 15:54

    I don’t think someone can gain this amount of riches in such a period of time. It takes an average American citizen 20 years to pay off a house mortgage loan. This is one example. How many more are out there?

  2. Ari Ali
    October 29, 2014 | 20:47

    I agree with Barzan. Real estate is the prime place for money laundering in Kurdistan . It defies any capitalistic logic that a full scale international war zone place like kurdistan , Erbil is only 70 Kilometres from Mosul ( under ISIS ) , is upbeat in prosperty and investment . It may be true for the entorage of bargain and talabani . But the reality is the average kurd is on the verge of hunger because of ” blockage of their salaries and wages ” from Baghdad. Rhetorics would not build nations !

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