Iraq, 1980. The Iranian F15s swooped around the partially constructed Ishtar Sheraton, followed the Tigris river beside Abu Nawas Street and launched their missiles at Al Dora refinery. Thirty years of war and unrest had begun. I know because I was there – I was the project quantity surveyor then, working for the State Organisation of Tourism. On the other side of the table, and working for the contractors was my future business partner, Evan Anderson, so our firm is truly founded on its Iraq experience.
Now it is 2010 and we all hope that a new, peaceful phase for the Iraqi people can start. The US army is leaving, and democratic elections have been held. The conditions of working and security are not yet ideal but those of us who have affection for Iraq and perhaps a long strategic vision mixed with optimism must try to be positive and provide support wherever we can.
Of course, commercial benefit is the driver, but there is also an element of goodwill that motivates me to participate. Iraq has been good to me, financially and professionally. Maybe soon I can return some of the debt owed. I hope so.
So, my blog starts, but it will quickly develop and convert to the blog of my company, Blair-Anderson Iraq. But first then a bit more history of how we got here.
My name is Stewart Blair. I am the joint owner of the Blair-Anderson Group, www.blair-anderson.com who have many years experience in the construction industry in what is known as the Middle East. We have provided cost management services to clients from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Egypt. We have been established for almost 25 years in this field.
In 2003 our company joined forces with an Iraqi civil engineer with whom we had worked in Dubai on several projects successfully, and a business bond had been created. We decided then that the combination of our international experience, including a credible Iraq and Haider’s enthusiasm to become involved in his native Iraq would demonstrate our ability to handle assignments in Iraq. Haider Al-Ali is the managing director of the company.
This blog will try to track our business development efforts and also try to impart and share some construction cost and risk knowledge as we discover it.
Let us start with a construction oriented look at the Iraq market. Why Iraq? Well, the projects I was on, such as the Ishtar, Palestine and Babylon hotels, the Rashid hotel, Taji Island and Baghdad University were probably the last to benefit from modern peaceful technology. The highest of these was 22 floors, perhaps 75 metres. We have now completed several towers in the UAE exceeding 75 floors!
The ambitions of Iraq need to be serviced by modern technology therefore. In our opinion, every urban facility and service is needed. For construction, the best way to view the market is as an island, where everything needs to be imported. Of course there will be local materials and skilled labour and workforce, but a lot has to be done to catch up so that proper construction and maintenance can be achieved.
The first conclusion then is that it will be expensive. We will explore all the various cost heads as our blog progresses, but we are also cautious as all development needs a return, and until the economy can afford to provide that by an accelerated increase in earnings per capita and so GDP, we suspect private development will not be as fast as may be expected or hoped for.
Even now, we are experiencing a significant level of difficulty. As our services tend to be at the front end of the procurement process, we notice a lack of confidence in government agencies in their own buying processes. We understand that there will be a certain nervousness – why not, no significant purchases of international services have been made for years, and the “I will not be ripped off “ syndrome is strong.
The construction and development procurement process is in our view then a priority. Therein lies our conflict of interest though, so until others take up this issue there is not much, that service providers like us can do. This blog may reach such others then, and that is our hope, so they can assess the value of our services without the pressure of a sales pitch. We look forward to sharing our experiences, and perhaps success with our readers over the coming months.
Stewart Blair is founder and director of Blair-Anderson Holdings, specialising in project reviews, management and control systems feasibility/viability studies, cost planning and the management and settlement of disputes on major international projects. He has been involved in sensitive dispute management assignments both in the Middle East and Internationally. He has also been responsible for successful cost planning and cost control on several major projects comprising high rise, commercial, hotel and touristic developments.