| DUBAI, Sept 17
DUBAI, Sept 17 Iraq is to spend billions of
dollars over the next two to three years on 50 water and sewage
projects that would be open to work by foreign contractors, the
country's municipal affairs minister said on Tuesday.
He said the Iraqi government was taking steps, including
facilitating the issue of visas to businessmen, to encourage
foreign contractors to set up shop in the violence-torn country.
Foreign contractors are reluctant to carry out much-needed
infrastucture projects in Iraq as a result of slow bureaucratic
procedures and an unstable political and security environment.
"What was allocated to projects that will be awarded in 2014
is $1.5 billion annually for two to three years," Municipalities
and Public Works Minister Adil Mhoder told Reuters on the
sidelines of a conference in Dubai.
Mhoder said the new projects, which he numbered at 50, were
related to building sewage infrastructure and securing portable
water from the Tigris-Euphrates river system.
"We will ask companies to bid for them in 2014," Mhoder
said. "By the end of 2013, these projects will have passed the
planning phase and will be needing implementation."
He said the government was taking steps to reduce
bureaucratic procedures, including speeding up the process of
awarding contracts and making it easier for foreign investors to
obtain entry visas into the country.
The government has already authorised heads of diplomatic
missions to issue visas for businessmen and investors within 48
hours, he said.
In its attempt to bring in reluctant contractors, the Iraqi
government is also offering letters of credit that could be used
by contractors who need to import equipment and other supplies,
the minister said.
Mhoder said his ministry currently oversees at least 50
infrastructure projects, most of them involving companies from
Asia and the Middle East, which are more willing than their
Western counterparts to take on risk, according to one Iraqi
contractor at the conference.
China, Turkey, Iran, India, Malaysia and the United Arab
Emirates as well as some European firms are currently invested
in the sector.
On Monday, Construction and Housing Minister Mohammed
al-Daraji told Reuters Iraq would spend around $10 billion on
infrastructure projects this year, with the country aiming to
increase this to more than $15 billion annually by 2016.
Despite government plans to spend billions of dollars over
the coming years, few foreign firms have been willing to build
About 800 Iraqis were killed in August, the United Nations
estimates. The bloodshed, 18 months after U.S. troops withdrew,
has stirred concerns about a return to the sectarian slaughter
of 2006-7, when the monthly death toll sometimes topped 3,000.
(Reporting by Mahmound Habboush; editing by Stephen Nisbet)