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Iraq’s Amwaj builds $3bn portfolio in ‘virgin country’ 

Amwaj's Iraq Gat The Lake property Amwaj
Iraq Gate The Lake is planned to offer 1,830 apartments
  • New projects include country’s tallest tower at 66 storeys
  • Iraq has had limited property development for decades 
  • Company in talks to enter GCC with schemes in Dubai

“The sky’s the limit” for real estate development in Iraq, says Namir El Akabi, whose company Amwaj International aims to capitalise on surging demand for upscale housing in Baghdad and beyond. 

The country, ravaged by war between 2014 and 2018 and stifled by almost 40 years of rule by Saddam Hussein, has been home to only limited property development for decades.

Now, with rising population growth, increasing per-capita income and a desire for better living standards, Iraq is coming back to life. And so is its real estate market. 

Amwaj has benefited from this demand, completing and selling a total of 9,200 homes in three luxury residential communities in Iraq.

It also has a project in Egypt and investment properties in Europe. 

The private, Baghdad-based company has a further three projects in construction in Iraq and at least five more in the pipeline, and says the value of its built and under-development portfolio stands at around $3 billion. 

In June, it celebrated the ground-breaking of its latest project, the $700 million Iraq Gate The Lake.

The development is planned to provide 1,830 two, three and four-bedroom apartments upon completion in 2027. 

The high-rise tower will provide around 7,000 residents with amenities such as cafes, a nursery and a supermarket. It is located in the heart of Baghdad, close to Al Zawraa Park. 

“Iraq really is a virgin country,” El Akabi told AGBI. “For 40 years, barely a single large-scale residential project has been built – and no high-rise ones. But the demand is there. For us, the sky’s the limit.”  

Depending on who you speak to, he added – and bearing in mind the dearth of official statistics on Iraq’s real estate market – there is a need for between one million and five million new homes over the next decade.

Iraq’s population has doubled from around 20 million in 2000 to over 42 million today, and average salaries have swelled, pushing up citizens’ purchasing power and fuelling home ownership and other ambitions. 

Iraq Gate The Lake will offer residents amenities such as cafes

“The first thing that gets going when you move from socialism or any controlled market, to a free market, is real estate,” El Akabi said. 

Robust economic growth is aiding the market. IMF data shows Iraq’s GDP grew by 8 percent last year, well above the average for the neighbouring GCC states. 

El Akabi says that, within the next three years, Amwaj will have provided high-end accommodation for between 100,000 and 150,000 Iraqis. But he believes the longer term potential is much bigger. 

“I compare Iraq to Saudi Arabia 14 years ago,” he said. “We are well behind where they are in terms of development, but we have roughly the same population size and nearly the same amount of oil reserves. 

“Saudi produces more than us [around 9 million barrels per day compared with Iraq’s 4 million], but we are increasing this as the potential is there. Everything is ahead of us.”

Changing attitudes

One of the biggest challenges Amwaj faced when it started building in Iraq five years ago was negative perceptions about high-rise living, El Akabi said.

Iraqis “have been educated to always buy and live on lower floors because they had seen [in past decades] how the electricity would always cut off on higher floors. That mentality is changing.” 

One of Amwaj’s upcoming projects is a 2,000-unit residential community containing a 60-storey tower. The highest building in Iraq is 33 storeys, the founder says.

The tower itself will house a hotel and 400 serviced apartments and talks are ongoing with operators such as the Four Seasons to manage the units. Amwaj expects to launch the scheme for sale off-plan within the next four months. 

It also aims to develop more in Egypt, and is in talks to enter the GCC, with a debut duo of projects on Dubai’s resurrected Palm Jebel Ali island

Land deals are expected to conclude within the next three months, El Akabi said, after which Amwaj will start design and construction. Each project will contain 300-400 apartments and span around 150,000 sq m.  

Other than the UAE, El Akabi said he is cautious about further expansion in the Gulf, even in its biggest market, Saudi Arabia.

He would prefer to concentrate his efforts on his home country, which “still has 20 years at least of growth left”. 

With projects in Baghdad and neighbouring districts such as New Kadhemiya City, Amwaj wants to enter untapped parts of Iraq next, where development is  strongly needed following years of neglect.

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