Baghdad Luxury Hotels and Condos

The Pentagon is backing a massive development project financed by Marriott and others to gentrify Baghdad.

Forget the rocket attacks, concrete blast walls and lack of a sewer system. Now try to imagine luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos in the heart of Baghdad. That’s all part of a five-year development “dream list” — or what some dub an improbable fantasy — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad’s future.

But the $5 billion plan has the backing of the Pentagon and apparently the interest of some deep pockets in the world of international hotels and development, the lead military liaison for the project told the Associated Press. For Washington, the driving motivation is to create a “zone of influence” around the new $700 million U.S. Embassy to serve as a kind of high-end buffer for the compound, whose total price tag will reach about $1 billion after all the workers and offices are relocated over the next year. “When you have $1 billion hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbors are. You want to influence what happens in your neighborhood over time,” said Navy Capt. Thomas Karnowski, who led the team that created the development plan.

[…]

But developers are clearly looking many years ahead and gambling that Baghdad could one day join the list of former war zones such as Sarajevo and Beirut that have rebounded and earned big paydays for early investors.

Spencer Ackerman is outraged at the very idea.

Your neighbors! Your actual neighbors, the ones whose country it is, experience shortages of water, electricity, fuel, cooking oil, medical care, security and more. The rise of this hotel compound will drain resources away from a desperate population.

[…]

Never, ever, let another warmonger get away with telling you that you want to end the war because you don’t care about the Iraqi people’s fate. He probably has his luxury suite already booked in the forthcoming International Zone Hilton.

I’m quite dubious of the plan and certainly wouldn’t invest my retirement savings in developing luxury resorts in the middle of a war zone. Still, the idea makes sense. Presumably, companies investing $1 billion in facilities will have a great stake in working to improve the infrastructure, security, rule of law, and other things necessary to ensuring the success of their business venture. Even for conglomerates, that’s real money.

At what point is it conscionable to build luxury hotels? Certainly, most of Cairo, Egypt is a slum by Western standards. Yet, there you will find more than a dozen magnificent luxury hotels, mostly clustered into a central zone, which cater to well-off tourists. Is that immoral? Or does it provide jobs for locals and gradually improve their standard of living?

For that matter, while America’s inner cities are a far cry from Baghdad, many of them are nonetheless impoverished, crime-ridden, and dysfunctional. Yet, almost all of them have luxury hotels, condos, restaurants, and so forth. Indeed, that’s true of our nation’s capital, where $500 a night hotels and restaurants selling $200 bottles of wine are within easy walking distance from neighborhoods none of the patrons of said establishments would venture into at night.

Wealth and abject poverty, safety and danger, and have and have not often coexist in close proximity. And the good often “draws resources away” from the bad. Why should Baghdad be any different?

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Iraq War, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Off-topic: say, James, my computer is down and I don’t have access to email (or the ability to access the OTB control panel). I’ve got a post in limbo. Could you publish it, please?

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    If it is private investment, no problem. In fact with private investment this is a positive good.

    And just another point. I have yet to see a luxury hotel that didn’t have ‘water, electricity, fuel, cooking oil, medical care, security and more’ (including sewers). So to the extent that developing these properties will perforce mean developing the infrastructure, this is part of how the city gets fixed.

    A question for the left. What you you suggest as an alternative (again using private investments) that would employ more Iraqis, have a better economic impact on Baghdad or in another tangible way positively impact Baghdad? The left’s military strategy seems to end with ‘run away’, so I would be interested to see if they have something constructive to offer on the economic front or if they will also find it easier to carp when something is being done without offering a positive alternative.

  3. Fence says:

    James, am I recalling correctly that you lived or spent a lot of time in Cairo? Because I was struck by your comment “most of Cairo, Egypt is a slum by Western standards” — that was not my experience.

  4. James Joyner says:

    James, am I recalling correctly that you lived or spent a lot of time in Cairo? Because I was struck by your comment “most of Cairo, Egypt is a slum by Western standards” — that was not my experience.

    I spent a month there in the summer of 2001. My experience was that much of the city was run down, the people wouldn’t obey traffic laws even with ubiquitous police carrying Uzi-style weapons standing by, and that aggressive pandhandling was rampant.

    Then again, I hadn’t lived as an adult in a major American city at that point. I consider significant parts Washington, DC pretty slum-like, too, even desirable areas like Adams Morgan.

  5. Fence says:

    I’d sure rather be alone at night in Cairo than the east side of the Anacostia. Anyway, if those things about Cairo bugged you, I’d sure recommend staying away from Delhi or Soweto (each of which have nearby 5-star hotels). Cairo is a lot more like Rome than the places that truly make me think of the word slum.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Cairo’s extremely run down and overrun with beggars. But, yes, one feels secure walking around late at night and there’s a fairly vibrant commercial/service economy.

  7. Michael says:

    A question for the left. What you you suggest as an alternative (again using private investments) that would employ more Iraqis, have a better economic impact on Baghdad or in another tangible way positively impact Baghdad?

    We could move our center of military operations outside of the city, stop reigning from Saddam’s palaces, create a rejuvenated public space in the green zone, with Iraqi businesses.

  8. Fence says:

    A question for the left. What you you suggest as an alternative

    For the left? Uh, you mean as opposed to the “right” which is advocating huge, huge government programs and subsidies not even to waste on our own citizens but on someone else’s? If Four Seasons wants to build a hotel in Iraq fine with me, as long as I’m not paying for it. The worst thing is I’ll have to not only have to pay for the hotel, but for all the guest bills and per diems for all the government contractors going over to Iraq to stay there. I don’t see any left/right here, just pigs at the taxpayer trough.