Gulf developers creating mini property boom in Kurdistan

A property construction boom is underway in Kurdistan, the autonomous part of Iraq, with more and more Middle East developers becoming involved in major projects.

Efforts to convince overseas property investors that the region is more stable than the rest of Iraq has led to billions of pounds worth of property deals being secured.

So far major Gulf companies are getting involved. Dubai-based Damac Properties has unveiled a £2.8 billion property development outside the region's capital city of Erbil. Bunyan Real Estate recently signed a £1.2 billion deal on a construction project in the region's town of Sulimaniya.

And two other Gulf companies, Crescent Petroleum and Dana, are involved in a million-dollar energy project to help to modernise the region. Many more companies are expected to join them, according to Falah Mustafa Bakir, the Kurdistan regional government's head of foreign relations, who says that the region has been working hard to gain credibility in the international arena.

'There are more deals in the pipeline. It's our policy to open up our borders to attract investors from the Gulf, Europe and further afield. We believe there are a lot of opportunities available, especially in infrastructure, real estate and construction,' he said.

The regional government is planning to open an Erbil Business Centre in Dubai to attract lucrative Gulf petrodollars and will be marketing itself as 'the other Iraq'.

It is keen to attract international companies who want to operate in Iraq but don't want to have a headquarters in places like Baghdad.

'Erbil in particular is well suited to serving the business community. It is safe as we have our own security forces that can offer protection. We have not had any terrorist attacks in the last couple of years. Many international airlines fly to Erbil and it's modernised in many ways,' added Bakir.

But there is still a long way to go, he admits. The country's infrastructure was badly damaged and even in Erbil power cuts are a daily occurrence and a lot of investment is needed in public health and communication networks.

But the country needs to tread a careful path and not alienate local people, according to businessman Mohammad Ahmed. 'These modern new developments will be financially out of the reach of most local people and many fear this could cause resentment. Critics say this type of development ignores the local realities and could drive a wedge between locals and wealthy foreign investors,' he warned.