|Baghdadis have put their properties
for sale and left the country seeking safety
One of the things that visitors to Baghdad notice immediately is the number of “for sale” signs which now cover the capital’s buildings.
Many of the four million Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria and Jordan in the past three years have put their houses on the market, hoping to generate some cash to help them while abroad.
Al Jazeera spoke to a Baghdad estate agent, who would identify himself only as Abu Ali for security reasons.
He said: “Ninety-nine per cent of those who want to sell their houses in Baghdad are afraid to live here. Some of them are professionals who had their colleagues killed and are afraid to meet the same fate.
“Others are afraid of being forcibly removed from their homes by the militias on ethnic and sectarian grounds, and many more reasons related to security.”
Abu Ali says that despite the saturation of the real estate market, the number of buyers seems to be dwindling.
“The supply is much, much higher than demand,” he says. “The value of Baghdad real estate has dropped nearly 50 per cent compared to 2003 and 2004.”
1990s purchasing power
The trend of Iraqis selling property and emigrating abroad first began in the mid-1990s and began to increase exponentially over the past three years.
After the UN-sponsored sanctions on Iraq in the wake of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqi currency lost much of its purchasing power depreciating up to 3,000 per cent.
Iraqi professionals who depended on high government salaries before the 1990s found themselves failing to support a lifestyle they had been accustomed to.
However, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government in April 2003, thousands of Iraqi expatriates, exiles, and those who had left during the 1990s returned expecting extremely profitable deals and business in what has become known as “rebuilding Iraq”.
They were accompanied by many private companies hoping to secure post-war contracts.
Abu Ali told Al Jazeera the real estate market witnessed a “golden renaissance” until the end of 2004.
It was in that year that violence started to claim dozens every day. Basic services and living conditions also deteriorated with some neighbourhoods seeing persistent water shortages and very little electric power.
|Proper electricity flow have not been
achieved yet in post-war Iraq
Those homes lucky enough to be powered by power generators often broke down as fuel shortages gripped the city.
Abu Ali said: “Nowadays, everybody is willing to leave; even many businessmen have shut down their businesses in Iraq and moved to other countries. And here is the problem – potential buyers have become a scarcity in Iraq.”
Salah Muhamad Amin, a retired army general from Baghdad said: “To be fair to the government, security has slightly improved since the implementation of the surge; however, it is not only about security.
“I am preparing myself to leave Baghdad, because I am not able to cope with day-to-day requirements. I am 70-years old and my wife is 62. We do not have enough electricity and we cannot tolerate the hot weather any more.”
He said his family has to daily manoeuvre through army checkpoints and barricades until they reach petrol stations where the queues can run for several blocks – all in the hope of securing fuel for the generators.
He said: “We are fed up with having to risk our lives every time we need to go and get our pensions, so I will sell my house and leave to a country where I can live normally.”
But those few Iraqis who were lucky enough to sell their homes and relocate to Arab capitals discovered that Jordan, Syria and Egypt were experiencing a real estate boom directly proportional to the number of refugees leaving Iraq.
|The only thing we can do is to spend our money until we are bankrupt and go beg humanitarian agencies for help.”
The few thousands of dollars they made in selling their Baghdad homes have proven insufficient to provide for their families in Amman, Damascus and Cairo.
A 2006 report by the Amman Chamber of Commerce indicated that non-Jordanians bought in Jordan in 2005 properties worth 147.3m Jordanian dinars ($ 207.4m), which is a 102.8 per cent increase compared to 2004.
The report said that Iraqis comprised 67.8 per cent of non-Jordanian buyers, a 10 per cent increase over the previous year.
Wissam al-Tahir, an Iraqi refugee in Jordan, said: “I believe Iraqis are cursed. I sold my house in Baghdad, but cannot get anything in Jordan … the prices have gone crazy. We are not allowed to work here, we cannot travel because all countries refuse to grant us visas, as if we are a sort of dirt or something.
“The only thing we can do is to spend our money until we are bankrupt and go beg humanitarian agencies for help.”