Rising politician pushes for rebirth of war-torn Iraqi city
Ramadi: With a five-star hotel, shopping malls and other real estate projects, the Iraqi city of Ramadi, ruined by more than a decade of war, is experiencing a construction boom led by the speaker of parliament.
Mohammad Al Halbussi, a civil engineer by training and who cultivates an image of dynamism, is from Anbar province and hopes to be re-elected in the national ballot on October 10.
Supporters say the vote here is akin to a plebiscite for a new term for Halbussi and his movement, which they attribute to Ramadi’s nascent economic revival after he was left in ruins after the battle for defeat the Daesh group.
Majority Sunni Ramadi is the capital of Anbar, a vast desert province west of Baghdad which covers a third of the country and extends to the borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
After the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, insurgents from Ramadi and nearby Fallujah fought some of the most difficult battles against US forces.
A decade later, the Sunni tribes of Anbar rose up against the Shiite government in Baghdad, which many residents of the province accuse of marginalization.
Then, Daesh terrorists captured Fallujah and Ramadi, before government forces reclaimed the towns from late 2015.
Marina, swimming pools
Since then, Ramadi has worked to erase his bloody past and rebuild himself, with projects led by Halbussi aimed at boosting the economy and winning over investors.
Al Halbussi, 40, travels frequently in the region, swapping his elegant suits for jeans during field visits to lead projects in Anbar province.
Along the banks of the Euphrates, workers are busy completing the construction of Ramadi’s first five-star hotel, complete with a marina on the Euphrates and swimming pools.
The 15-story, 184-room hotel valued at $ 60 million is a joint venture between the municipality and private investors.
Its builder, Hatem Ghadbane, praised the local authorities but reserved his praise for Halbussi.
“He deserves all the credit for the ongoing construction projects in Anbar province, as well as for political stability and security,” Ghadbane said.
Over the years, Al Halbussi is known to maintain good ties with the federal government in Baghdad while cultivating relationships with regional powers.
In September, he met Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sisi in Cairo.
“He quickly rose through the political and administrative ranks, moving from the status of parliamentarian to that of governor to that of president in his thirties,” said Iraqi political scientist Hamzeh Hadad.
Al Halbussi reached the post of president with the support of the pro-Iran bloc.
“He rose so quickly … he opposed the old guard of Sunni politicians. And he managed to unite them against him, ”said Hadad.
Portraits of Al Halbussi, with his sleek black hair, and candidates from his Taqadom party (“Progress” in Arabic) were plastered throughout Ramadi, rivaling those of challengers of the Azm coalition made up of traditional Sunni figures.
Photos of candidates rise above impeccably cobbled avenues adorned with new lamps and lawns. City work crews can often be seen patching up a sidewalk or street, but not everyone is impressed.
The challenges abound. The main public hospital, for example, is functioning but awaiting restoration work to be completed – while a new private hospital with sophisticated equipment opened in April.
Anbar Governor Ali Farhan Al Dulaimi, who is presenting himself with Taqadom, said a series of projects are planned, including an international airport for Ramadi.
Ramadi Municipality Chief Omar Dabbous is proud of his town’s economic recovery and has also credited Halbussi with the leading role in efforts to attract investment.
“We hope he stays at the top of the pyramid (and wins a second term) to build on what he and his team have started,” Dabbous said.
Analyst Hadad said it would be “very difficult to predict” if Halbussi could win a second term as a speaker.
“But if anyone ever had to do it, it’s [Al] Halbussi.