Al Maabar deal to build homes in Iraq still in limbo 3 years later

Three years after the Abu Dhabi developer Al Maabar announced a US$10 billion (Dh36.73bn) deal to build thousands of homes in Iraq, the project is still in limbo with no indication when work will begin, the company's managing director said Tuesday.

Plans called for Al Maabar to develop 1,200 hectares in Baghdad, where about 1 million new homes are needed. The project would include a technology centre, hotel, golf course and museums. But Al Maabar has not been able to finalise the deal, Yousef Al Nowais,the managing director, told The National.

"When you have [a] big deal like that, you need to make sure all the terms and conditions are in place," Mr Al Nowais said. "For the time being, we are still discussing it."

As recently as April, Mr Al Nowais said the Baghdad project was important to the company and expressed hope that a deal would be signed within months.

Mr Al Nowais declined yesterday to detail reasons for the delay.

Several UAE companies, including Bloom Properties and Damac Properties, have tried to develop projects in Iraq. But none of the developments have moved forward.

"So far nobody has been able to catch a deal," Mr Al Nowais said.

Financing concerns, as well as difficulties getting permits and other regulatory approval have stymied many of the larger projects, said Kyle Stelma, the managing director of Dunia Frontier Consultants, which tracks the market.

"We are seeing housing projects, but we are seeing a definitive shift to smaller, more doable projects," Mr Stelma said.

Al Maabar was established in 2007 by six Abu Dhabi companies - Aldar Properties, Sorouh Real Estate, Al Qudra Holding, Reem Investments, Reem International and Mubadala Development - to develop overseas property projects. One of the company's initial forays was in Libya, where Al Waha, its $750 million joint venture development in Tripoli, was put on hold in April amid civil war.

"I'm sure as soon as things are put in order we will be able to start," Mr Al Nowais said.

Projects in Morocco and Jordan are moving forward, including the development of a $10bn residential and tourism project in Aqaba, Jordan; and a $300m St Regis-branded hotel in Amman.

The company expects to begin marketing the St Regis by the end of the year and the first phase of the Aqaba project early next year.

This week, Al Maabar began marketing the second phase of Bab Al Bahr,a 51.2-hectare development outside Rabat in Morocco. The new campaign focuses on 390 apartments in the "Arts District", scheduled for completion next June.

The first phase of the project, with about 150 apartments, is scheduled to be handed over next June.

Mr Al Nowais said the company would not need to raise additional funds for the short term. Additional phases of projects would be based on market needs.