BAGHDAD - After the US-led invasion of
Iraq in 2003 there were hopes its
millennium-old capital Baghdad could rise
again from the ashes, but construction sites
have remained idle as if time stood still.
For 15 years promises of rebuilding
infrastructure in the second most populous
Arab capital have fallen through and a
multitude of projects have been shelved.
Baghdad's skyline is dotted with the
desolate sights of rusting cranes, while
roads and bridges are gutted with potholes
and craters from lack of maintenance.
Even the emblematic Fardous (paradise)
Square, where a giant effigy of dictator
Saddam Hussein was symbolically pulled down
with the help of US Marines, remains to be
Infrastructure across Baghdad, a city of 900
square kilometres (350 square miles), is in
dire need of repairs.
"Industry, education, health, agriculture...
everything is now worse than it was during
Saddam's rule," said businessman Sadeq al-Shomari.
In 2004 and again in 2007, international
conferences were organised to rebuild Iraq
and donors pledged massive funds for
projects that have never materialised.
Some of the funds allocated to rebuilding
Baghdad have disappeared, according to
Transparency International which ranks Iraq
as the 12th most corrupt country in the
- '40,000 thieves' -
Teacher Zuheir Ouasmi blames it on corrupt
officials who he says have pilfered Iraqi
coffers, comparing his country's woes to the
folk tale "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves".
Before 2003 "the wealth of Ali Baba was in
the hands of the dictator but now 40,000
thieves have take over Ali Baba's cave and
the treasure", he said.
As Baghdad's infrastructure worsens, its
population has swelled mainly due to an
influx of people who fled conflict zones
elsewhere in Iraq to settle in the capital.
In 2003, the capital was home to 4.7 million
but now the population of Baghdad is 7.2
During that same period the number of cars
in the congested city also grew from 250,000
to more than two million vehicles.
Daily power cuts plague the population who,
in order to keep their refrigerators working
and mobile phones charged, must rely on
The streets of the capital -- wracked by
years of sectarian violence after the US-led
invasion that ousted Saddam and car bomb
attacks -- are some of the most congested in
Cement blocks have been erected to block off
roads and render them more secure from 2003
onwards, and restaurants, cafes and shops
have also used cement walls and sandbags as
Now that the violence has decreased,
hundreds of streets have been reopened but
roadblocks manned by security forces are
still an obstacle course for motorists and
The iconic Rashid Street, which was built
during World War I and until the 1970s was
Baghdad's answer to the Champs-Elysees in
Paris, is now dotted with "cement walls and
roadblocks and rubble", bemoaned US-Iraqi
architect Raya Alanie.
"It is sad. Everything must be renovated,"
she said of Baghdad's heritage.
- City within a city -
Alanie recalled the heyday of the city,
heart of the Abassid Caliphate and the
centre of Arab and Muslim civilisation for
Baghdad "was the first city to equip homes"
along Abu Nawas Avenue which girds the
Tigris River, "with solar energy" in the
1980s, when Saddam ruled over the country,
The Tigris is the city's green lung and on
the other bank, behind barbed wire and
cement fortifications, a small island can be
There, in what is known as Baghdad's Green
Zone, the grass is green and traffic along
its wide avenues is rare.
The fortified area houses the country's key
institutions and it is where the US troops
that invaded Baghdad in 2003 had set up
their headquarters in Saddam's palace.
The Green Zone is out of bounds for most
Iraqis and only a few are privileged enough
to have a pass to enter the area, which is
also home to the US and British embassies.