In the shadowy silhouette of Iraq’s neighbohoods, lie the stark reminders of unfulfilled dreams : countless structures, abandoned and languishing in neglect. Their silent, hollowed shells bristle in the relentless wind, while stray dogs seek refuge amidst the decaying remnants of what was once the promise of development. These structures, scattered across numerous Iraqi provinces, range from residential complexes and stadiums to bridges and infrastructure projects – all originally destined for grandeur, but now mere specters of their intended glory.

In this investigative piece, we delve into the profound impact of these deserted projects, a disturbing manifestation of post-2003 corruption that continues to plague the nation. Using the Republic Bridge in Diwaniyah and the major srage project in Hilla as focal points, The Red Line attemptsto illuminate the magnitude of this issue.

The sheer number of these languishing projects is staggering. As per a 2022 report by the Ministry of Planning, 1,452 projects had come to a standstill, swallowing up an astonishing 24 trillion dinars before grinding to a halt. This count shrank to 1,171 at the beginning of this year, following extensive remedial efforts.

However, the implications of these abandoned structures go beyond the sole fiscal issue. A less examined, yet critical facet of this reality is the impact on the health and safety of the labor force involved in its construction and maintenance. In the scramble to halt operations, safety protocols are often overlooked, transforming these sites into hazardous environments. Moreover, the health consequences for local communities residing in the vicinity of these abandoned structures have been significantly under-reported.

“The Republic” Project: A Decade of Delays and Resilience

On a bustling intersection in Diwaniyah governorate, where workers are engrossed in a symphony of construction amidst the statuesque concrete pillars stretching in various directions. These monoliths, now draped in dust, bear the traces of a decade-old project known as the Republic Bridge.

The project, burdened with a hiatus of ten years, is presently stirring back to life. This crucial intersection holds the promise of alleviating traffic congestion by bridging the northern with the southern and eastern axes of the province. The renewed fervor follows a site visit by Iraq’s Prime Minister who urged the completion of the long-stalled bridge.

In an interview to The Red Line, Mr. Khaled Al-Tamimi, the secretary to Diwaniyah’s Governor,, explained that the project had been caught in the quagmire of delays: supposedly slated for completion in 2021, it had only  been reactivated recently. Alongside the Republic Bridge, the old Al-Jarara bridge, a relic from the last century, is also slated for restoration.

Pointedly, Al-Tamimi places the responsibility of the project’s slow progress on the Ministry, clarifying:s “The project is not a local endeavor but falls under the jurisdiction of the central government in Baghdad.”

Financially, the ambitious Diwaniyah Bridge project, weighs in at an estimated 35 billion. Its strategic importance is undeniable as it provides a solution to the rampant traffic congestion plaguing the Diwaniyah governorate. 

Rokn Al-Jamal, the companyentrusted with erecting the Republic Bridge, deflected the blame for the delays onto local officials. However, a promise was made by representatives of the company during a meeting with the Diwaniyah Governor in February 2022 to bring the project to completion within six months. Four months into this vow, the completion of the structureis still awaited. As of May 2023,  The dawn of this month witnessed the inauguration of the first phase of the bridge, and the pursuit to its completion is underway, with over 60% of the task accomplished.

In an interview with The Red Line, a source from the Ministry of Construction and Housing revealed that the Republic Bridge project has been marred with stagnation since its inception in 2014.

The project has been part of investment budget schedule of the Ministry of Construction and Housing since 2013. It was then launched  on January 22, 2014, with a contractual timeline of 540 days. Regrettably, the project was brought to an abrupt halt due to ambiguities cited by the Ministry of Planning.

According to the Ministry of Planning, an expert engineering team was dispatched to the project site. The team encountered a series of hurdles that contributed to the delay. Among the complications identified were inaccurate preliminary studies and designs, which led to a drastic shift from an envisaged tunnel and bridge to two separate bridges on different levels. Moreover, an unresolved matter of updating the project’s progress schedule led to further delays.

Unfortunately, despite the highly positive outcome such a project could hold for the Diwaniyah province, the project did not see completion within the province’s 2022 budget of 490 billion – the largest in Diwaniyah’s history. The bridge, shrouded in uncertainty, remains a beacon of hope that the people of Diwaniyah look towards for a smoother and less congested future.

The Grand Hilla Sewage Project: An Unfolding Saga of Developmental Roadblocks

Further North of Diwaniyah lies the Babil’s governorate, , where another unsettling panorama can be found: swaths of stagnating water pools fill the land, still undrained since the previous rains. These puddles that are mere breeding grounds for mosquitoes, are but another monumental symbol of an halted project in Iraq : the Grand Hilla Sewage and drainage Project.

In her interview to The Red Line, a government employee, who chose to go by the pseudonym of Um Yasser, shared her firsthand experiences of the project’s disruptions dating back over a decade. She reminisced about her university years when she would regularly  wander away from the main roads. Her curiosity eventually led her to the root cause: the Hilla Sewage Project.

Um Yasser vividly described how this major infrastructure’s development was neglected: “The excavation operations along Street 60, a key artery connecting four provinces were on hold for months.It was a recurrent reminder of this seemingly never-ending project, whoserepeated delays remained unexplained for years.”

Amir Al-Maamouri, a representative of the Parliamentary Services Committee, narrated the tumultuous journey of the project in finer detail. He stated, “The Hilla Sewage Project went through various phases. Initially, the plan was to incorporate primary sewer lines followed by a comprehensive network spreading to the nucleus of Hilla city, Babil’s capital, and its major neighborhoods, including Sob al Kabir and Small Sob al Saghir. Regrettably, the funding fell short, nudging the State to secure a British loan amounting to 400 billion in 2017 and 2018.”

The allocation of such a substantial sum should have paved the way  for Hilla to emerge as Iraq’s most advanced governorate in terms of sanitation systems. But such dreams were rapidly dampened as the waters from the rain started merging with the incomplete drainage lines of the project.

Mr. Al-Maamouri laid the blame for the project’s delay on “internal strife among corporate entities, with certain political groups attempting to gain monopoly over the project’s implementation. These behind-the-scenes battles have resulted in a timeline extension from 2018-2019 to 2023. As of today,  the project’s remains stalled due to these ongoing conflicts.” Mr. Al-Maamouri added.

Emphasizing the repercussions of these conflicts, Mr. Al-Maamouri also pointed out that the residents of Hilla have borne the brunt of these administrative disputes, enduring the floods caused by recent rains that remained undrained.

The representative  indicated that a dialogue has been initiated with the Prime Minister’s office, the Ministry of Planning, and other relevant parties to resolve the issue: “The intervention of the judiciary saw some decisive action from the Prime Minister’s office, as they finally assigned the project to a particular company a few days back.”, he detailed.

However, Mr. Al-Maamouri underscored the heavy toll this project’s delay has has caused on the province, resulting in a lag in service deliveries, streets maintenance. “Overal, it’s persistent setback to the development of the province’s infrastructures.

The detrimental effects of delayed projects are most acutely felt by the citizens. Endless hours are lost in traffick jams while the inhabitant’s livelihood gets affected by these lingering projects without any accountability in scope. Speaking to The Red Line, Mr. Adnan Al-Sharifi, a legal expert, clarifies that ordinary citizens cannot file lawsuits against those in charge of such projects unless they’ve suffered personal damages – a harm inflicted on the individualdue to the project’s delay but not for its mere procrastination.

Mr. Al-Sharifi provided an illustrative example: “Imagine a situation where a man’s wife is in labor, but the road to the hospital is blocked due to an overdue bridge construction project. The ensuing delay leads to medical complications resulting in the tragic death of the woman. In this case, he would indeed have the right to file a lawsuit due to the personal harm suffered. This provision, however, only holds if a project surpasses its official completion date, not during its designated execution timeframe.”

The expert also outlined the entities responsible for overseeing these stalled projects. These include the Integrity Commission, the Financial Control Bureau, the Parliament, as well as the referring or contracting entities such as municipalities, governorates, the Ministry of Construction, and any other official body responsible for the project.

The decline in public service quality is palpable across various infrastructures including roads, bridges, water supplies, sewage, urban planning, and more, despite the significant budgetary allocations to the service ministries.

Corruption and the issue of phantom projects are significant impediments to the development of infrastructure. In a significant revelation in February 2020, Mohammed Al-Jubouri, a former advisor at the Ministry of Planning, stated that the funds allocated to development projects where the foundation stones have already been laid could have been used for reconstructing devastated regions. The abandoned projects spanned various domains, from hospital and sports stadium construction to power stations, residential complexes, sewage networks, and other initiatives such as prefabricated steel schools.

In Iraq, the issue of phantom projects stands as a prominent indicator of corruption. The Parliamentary Finance Committee has reported that these projects have cost the country a staggering loss of over USD200 billion between 2003 and 2013.

VIASam Mahmood, Nabaa Mushriq, Mohammed ALZAIDAWI