Kurdistan is currently experiencing an unprecedented construction boom, reflecting the progress the region has made since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The demand for housing has skyrocketed; more and more Kurds find themselves in a position where they have the financial means to buy a home. Tourism is thriving and has, in turn, led to the development of hotels, theme parks and other necessary infrastructure. At the heart of this surge in the property sector is the Ranj Group.
This Iraqi construction and development company was set up in 1999. It was born out of the need to establish social stability in the Kurdish region. Contracted for several projects funded by the now-defunct United Nations Oil for Food Programme, the Ranj Group worked from the start to improve the lives of the Kurdish people by building health clinics and schools. Through its dealings with the government, the UN and the private sector, the company gained a reputation as one with the highest standards of quality and workmanship. It has a large foothold in the private real estate sector in Iraq, and has been involved in a number of exciting developments.
Most notable is the Ranj Tower, an 85-storey building that has become an icon of Kurdistan’s progress. When construction is completed, it will stand as Iraq’s tallest building, offering a range of office, retail, recreational and residential space. “The tower is a testament to how far the Kurdistan Region has come and is an investment opportunity for the international community,” says Faxir Maraan, Chairman of the Ranj Group.
Regarding international investment, he points out that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is extremely open to outside investment. It offers a very favourable investment climate, with legislation in place to benefit the foreign investor.
British companies have an extra advantage investing in the region, assures Mr Maraan. This is due to the special reverence that Kurds hold not only for Britain, but also for British products. “This country has always been familiar with British products and recognises the quality. So British producers should pay attention to this market here, because the people have been brought up on ‘Made in Britain’ products, and they are hungry for British goods. The Ranj Group would be happy to distribute British brands in Kurdistan.”
One of the main priorities for the Ranj Group, its chairman says, is “putting Erbil (Kurdistan’s capital) on the map.” It has several projects under way which are sure to help him achieve this goal. These massive developments also demonstrate the region’s economic progress, as well its push to be a freer, more democratic, and Westernised society. Erbil in particular is going through a transition similar to the one that places like Dubai and Abu Dhabi experienced many years before.
Main projects – either completed or under construction – include shopping malls, hotels, theme parks and state-of-the-art residential blocks. They have required well over $1 billion of investment.
Warin City, costing $800 million, is the largest residential and commercial complex in Iraq. Situated in the most influential area of Erbil City, it expands over an area of 875,000 square metres. The residential zones are comprised of a mixture of luxury houses, villas and apartments. The commercial zone includes 14 high-rise office towers (30-40 floors high) and the largest shopping mall in Iraq.
Also located in Kurdistan’s thriving capital is Al-Manara, a residential complex built over 662,500 square metres. At a cost of $150 million, it includes 1,400 housing units, commercial spaces and a medical centre.
Reflecting the region’s advancements in tourism sector is the construction of a new luxurious hotel, the Four Points by Sheraton.
With the tourism sector flourishing, Mr Maraan is urging British companies to invest in Erbil, rather than in some of its maybe more obvious neighbours. “It is now important for UK companies to look at Erbil. Why would you want to build tourism in areas that are too hot for a substantial part of the year, are less strategically placed and do not have the history that Erbil can offer,” he says.Also earmarked for completion in five years is a multibillion-dollar development that will see the construction of several apartment blocks, hotels and, most notably, a Disney theme park. Mr Maraan says that they are looking for investors in Europe to “help out” with this giant undertaking.
In its short 12-year history, the Ranj Group has also become a highly successful investment company. Today it is one of the largest investment firms in Iraq with total investments projects in construction and tourism sectors exceeding $1.5 billion. However, it has not forgotten its humble roots as a provider of much-needed social infrastructure in Kurdistan, such as medical and education centres, built in conjunction with the KRG and the UN in the early 2000s.
In recent times, the Ranj Group built 6,000 low-cost housing units. “We are not looking to make any profit from this. We did it as part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR). We want to give something back to the community. This is just one of the number of CSR projects we are part of,” adds the company’s chairman.
The demand for affordable housing in Kurdistan has opened the floodgates for those interested in investing in the country’s banking and financial industry, which is still in its infancy. One hindrance to the development of the housing sector is the lack of mortgages offered for affordable housing.
“We need banks to start offering 10-year mortgages to people,” says Mr Maraan. “Any bank coming here with such offerings will make billions. There is still so much need for the mortgages that everyone will make money.”
The banking sector in the region requires huge investment and development. British banks HSBC and Standard Chartered are already operating in Kurdistan, after having recognised its potential for investment, and other renowned international banks are sure to follow.