Ramadi local, Omar al-Hamdani, 48, says he never thought he would live anywhere else but his hometown. But things are becoming impossible.
“Working hours and transport is determined by the military leaders here, using security plans that often don’t appear to be very well organised,” he told NIQASH. “Sometimes one of the security teams at one of the checkpoints blocks a whole neighbourhood from going to work, using the excuse that there are security breaches that threaten the population,” he complains.
Security procedures in Ramadi are complex and time consuming and his family are only too well aware that there is still significant threat of extremist attacks. Additionally, al-Hamdani says, health care facilities are non-existent nor is schooling. On top of this, a business he had founded while out of Anbar was doing well and would support him in the semi-autonomous and far more secure northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
I keep getting calls from people asking me to sell their property, even though they are well aware they will only get half of what it is worth.
So he’s relocating. To move though, al-Hamdani has had to sell his house, a large property in a good central neighbourhood.
“In the past my house was valued at about IQD250 million [about US$208,000] but I sold it for IQD150 million. I know this is a low price but I didn’t hesitate,” al-Hamdani explains. “I wanted to stop paying anything toward the house – the payments were a terrible burden on us while we were displaced – and now I just want a safe, secure life for my family away from ideological conflicts or any threat of further displacement.”
While selling property at such a low price means a loss for the sellers, it is proving to be an opportunity for the buyers.
The real estate business has been great in Fallujah since September 2016, when families started returning to their homes after the extremists were driven out, confirms Nabil Ibrahim al-Issawi, 50, owner of a real estate agency.
“People came back and made big decisions,” al-Issawi explains. “I keep getting calls from friends and customers asking me to sell their property, even though they are well aware they will only get half the value of the building if they sell now.”
“The cities that have been liberated have lost all of the things that made them attractive in the first place,” he continues. “Doctors don’t want to go back, schools have been destroyed and the infrastructure and state services are not back yet either.”
Without giving away his clients’ names, al-Issawi says that one wealthy local spent IQD1 billion and bought five houses and 13 pieces of residential land through his office in the past three months. “And there are many others who have found investment opportunities,” he adds.
The real estate business is thriving, Abdul Hamid al-Hadithi, a legal adviser in the province’s property registration office, agrees. Property is changing hands a lot at the moment and particularly in Anbar’s two biggest cities, Fallujah and Ramadi.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s an ongoing trend though,” he cautions. Statistics from various transactions have yet to be processed.
“But we do know, simply from our observations, that most of the buying and selling is happening with residential property. We believe that this has attracted capital to the province, people who believe there is future potential in Anbar’s cities, which have long had good commercial and social status.”
Majid al-Abdullah is another Anbar local who’s selling up. He and his brothers inherited a large, multi-storey building in Fallujah, that included commercial rental space, from their father.
“But the shop space has been useless for the past few years,” he says. “So, my brothers and I decided to sell the building even though we know we will lose a lot of money. But we believe we are making the right decision because we are going to invest that money in more stable parts of the country.”
Al-Abdullah, who now lives in Baghdad, says he hopes one day to be able to have enough commercial interests inside Iraq to provide him with a living, even if he is living outside Iraq, “where we can provide our children with a better education and a life,” he explains.
“The security measures necessary here have dried up the flow of goods and of well qualified locals,” al-Abdullah continues. “It’s having a negative impact on business, health and education because nobody wants to be here anymore. People are reluctant to return to the city and that includes the doctor that used to rent a room in our building and the business owners who also did.”