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Iraq starts rebuilding Mosul airport

Determined to complete the delayed Mosul airport reconstruction project, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is granting the project special exceptions to shield it from corruption and complex administrative procedures.
A member of Iraq's Hashid Shaabi paramilitary force looks on while standing along a runway at the heavily damaged airport of the northern city of Mosul.

Iraq Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi issued instructions on July 26, stressing the need to expedite the fulfillment of all requirements necessary to begin the Mosul International Airport reconstruction project. 

Kadhimi chaired on July 18 a meeting to discuss plans for the reconstruction of the airport that was damaged during the war against the Islamic State (IS). 

His keen interest in Mosul comes in response to pressing demands raised by the province’s residents on July 16 for the reconstruction of the airport and factories and the execution of projects to generate job opportunities.

In this context, spokesman for the Ministry of Planning Abdul-Zahra Al-Hindawi told Al-Monitor, “Mosul received around $90 billion, the largest part of the sums allocated in the budget for reconstruction since its infrastructure was destroyed and tens of thousands of homes were destroyed.”

The project also is supported by UNESCO’s flagship initiative launched in 2018 to Revive the Spirit of Mosul, which threw a glimmer of hope that the archaeological monuments in the province might be reconstructed. 

Al-Monitor contacted a source at the office of Ninevah Gov. Najm al-Jubouri, who asserted that "the project has now become a strategic priority after Kadhimi’s recent instructions.” The office admitted that there are some differences over prices and that an international evaluation and audit company was assigned to estimate the cost. 

However, Iraq's Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Jihad Al Daraji told Al-Monitor, “Talks are underway with a French consurtium about the appropriate designs for this project, which will revive the economy and commerce of the province, and enhance the capacity of air transport between Iraq’s provinces and abroad.” 

The district commissioner of Mosul, Zuhair al-Araji, talks about offers from several companies, including Turkish companies. He told Al-Monitor, “One of the Turkish companies required for the reconstruction of the airport that the local government guarantee 600,000 passengers annually, a huge number that is difficult to achieve under the current circumstances.”

Mazhar Mohammed Salih, financial adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, told Al-Monitor, “Back in the 1950s, the city of Mosul was a great economic hub for the trade of grains and the second most populated city in the country. At that time, its airport was the main tourism and trade airport for northern Iraq.” 

Salih added, “Mosul in particular, and Ninevah province in general, is in dire need of a modern and advanced civil airport that can boost air transport in northern Iraq and that interconnects with the airports of the Kurdistan Region and the rest of Iraq’s airports. This airport will prove to be more and more crucial for tourism and commerce.”

Regarding the exemptions given to the Mosul airport project, he said, “The execution of the reconstruction project of the Mosul airport, part of the campaign to rebuild Ninevah after its liberation from terrorism, has so far failed due to red tape and bureaucratic administrative procedures. This led to delay in taking decisions and obtaining approvals which entailed extra expensive costs. It is necessary to speed up the airport reconstruction process in order not to miss out on profits and to avoid unjustified additional costs to the budget.” 

Salih praised Kadhimi’s decision, saying, “The government took exceptional decisions in agreeing on the execution of the works of the Mosul airport project by concluding contracts outside the approved bureaucratic mechanisms and in accordance with the powers conferred to the Council of Ministers.”

In turn, Mahmoud al-Hashemi, researcher at the Union Research Center in Baghdad, told Al-Monitor, “The reconstruction of Mosul International Airport is a step in the right path. Mosul ranks second after Baghdad in terms of surface area and population. The city also has a prestigious heritage and civilization, and its airport may be one of the oldest (in the country) since it was built in 1920 under the British mandate of Iraq as a military airport. Then, it was developed into a civil airport in 1922. After the war, the airport was turned into a pasture for animals.” 

He argued, however, that the sudden interest in the Mosul airport could be used as a political card to win loyalties among the political forces in the province.

Meanwhile, Nabil al-Ali, a political and economic researcher in Baghdad, criticized the exemptions given to the airport reconstruction project. He told Al-Monitor, “Granting repeated exemptions by the government to heads of departments, government institutions and ministries could encourage corruption.”

He explained, “Contracts Performance Instructions No. 2 of 2014 are supreme rules issued to all public government agencies and institutions. They draw the lines that must be followed in concluding contracts in a way that protects and guarantees the rights of all contracting parties, achieves justice and equality between tenderers, and protects public funds. Exemptions from these instructions should only be given under special circumstances such as war, natural disasters or major crises.”

Ali continued, “Many exemptions were observed, such as those given to contracts related to the ration card program, contracts for regional development projects worth tens of billions of dollars and contracts for many ministries. Most recently, exemptions were given for the execution of projects related to the Mosul airport."

Ali believes that “exemptions may lead to a waste of public money accounting for around 20% of the volume of expenditure excluded from the mentioned instructions.”

Former Iraqi parliament member from Ninevah province and civil and political activist Joseph Sylawa told Al-Monitor that “the completion of the Ninevah airport is a good indicator and [adds] much-needed service to a region inhabited by more than 3 million people, as most residents are now forced to travel through Erbil International Airport.”

He believes the airport will be a cultural window to the world since it will enhance the openness of the people of Mosul, influenced by the ideology of IS. “The strict and deep-rooted discourse is prevalent in Mosul, where Christians suffer discrimination.” 

Sylawa warned that the project should be protected from corruption and blackmailers. “Many business projects in Mosul are stumbling, or failing, despite the huge financial amounts allocated to them. Thus, it is all the more necessary to apply accurate financial control and ensure speed and good execution of these projects.”