Less Corruption, Less Money: In Iraq, Religious Construction Faster, More Efficient Than Government Projects
Tourists coming to visit Karbala and Najaf can stop at one of the “visitor cities” built by religious authorities. Compared to government projects, these complexes are built quickly and run efficiently.
Abdul Habib al-Khafaji and his family of seven had come from Basra to visit the religious shrines in Karbala. They're driving the route between the two cities and they could afford to stay in a nice hotel.
But instead the al-Khafaji family decide to spend some time in one of what are known as the “visitors' cities” before they head on into Karbala, about 17 kilometres away. Amenities at the visitors' cities are free of charge, as services are provided by the religious authorities.
This particular visitors' city, on the road between Karbala and Najaf is called The City of Imam Hussein al-Mujtaba and was opened in 2013. The city is sited on 22 acres, surrounded by agricultural areas, and boasts a restaurant that seats a thousand diners, 16 reception halls for visitors during festivals or cultural events, apartments for overnight stays, a medical clinic, water purification plant, a large mosque and 32 gardens crowded with multi-coloured fountains and large outdoor viewing screens. In fact, it's so pleasant here it also draws locals from Karbala.
With the city's clean streets, glazed facades and well organised, well lit gardens, the miniature metropolis looks nothing like the developments the Iraqi government builds. And that is because it's not. This “city” was built with funds from the Shiite Muslim Endowment, which operates similarly to a Western nation’s trust, tasked with running Shiite property like mosques and shrines and also undertaking other philanthropic projects, such as education and social welfare.