Iraq’s Anbar Province is an incredible story of resilience and rebuilding and amazingly has now become one of the best opportunities for investment in the Middle East.
As governor of Anbar in 2017-18, and a native of the region, I am proud to be a part of its resurgence, which was led by the will and can-do spirit of our people. Instead of being beaten down by conflict, the people of Anbar showed themselves more determined than ever to reclaim its peace and promise.
In addition to the remarkable resilience and self-determination of its people, Anbar boasts abundant natural resources, an impressive journey to security and stability and an increasing allure to international investors.
Normal life for the residents of Anbar has largely returned. A nightly curfew, in place for two decades, has lifted; military units have been redeployed outside the province and key highways have been reopened. Security has passed from the military to the police, a clear sign of safer conditions.
As the Financial Times wrote in 2021: “Improved security has finally allowed people in Anbar to rebuild their lives and homes. The Iraqi government and international agencies have poured money into better roads and new bridges. About 1.5 million people displaced by fighting have returned. Anbar’s investment authority has issued hundreds of investment licenses.”
Now, we focus on Anbar’s future. And it’s a future that international investors should pay attention to.
Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves, and Anbar contains a treasure trove of natural resources that can serve as a catalyst for economic growth. By responsibly tapping into the region’s vast oil and gas reserves, Anbar can contribute significantly to Iraq's energy production, enhancing the country's fiscal capacity and reducing its reliance on volatile oil prices.
Iraq recently invited foreign bids for 11 new natural gas fields; eight of those are in Anbar. New oil reserves in Anbar were discovered just last year. Earlier this year, operations in the Akkas gas field in Anbar commenced, sending some of the output to a nearby Anbar power plant. Power generation is the other half of Anbar’s resource story, and new power stations are under construction across the province. General Electric will supply turbines for a new gas-fired power plant in the region, showing the way for other U.S. investors.
But oil and gas are only part of Anbar’s energy story. With renewable energy becoming an imperative on the global stage, Anbar has the chance to become a frontrunner in clean energy projects, capitalizing on its ample sunshine and wind resources. Last year, a 150-MW solar project was announced for Anbar.
Major industrial plants are rebooting and are open to foreign investors. Many of these are key to Anbar’s continued rebuilding, especially cement and asphalt plants; the province’s silica deposits make it an ideal location for glass and ceramic factories. The same is true of the idled phosphate factories that processed material from Anbar’s 22 known deposits. Phosphate is a key component of fertilizer. An opportunity opens for Anbar in this sector, as countries seek to reduce their dependence on Russian and Chinese phosphate and fertilizer.
Investors should also consider transportation infrastructure projects in Anbar that take advantage of its strategic location in the heart of the Middle East that make it a natural logistics hub.
Beyond energy and infrastructure, the agricultural sector in Anbar has a long and rich history – and tremendous promise. Fed by the waters of the Euphrates River, surrounding lakes and sprawling underground aquifers, the fertile soil of Anbar made it the breadbasket of Iraq and a major employer, especially for women; 40 percent of the province’s female residents earned their living through agriculture. This can and should be the case again. With the right investment in modern farming techniques, irrigation systems and agro-processing industries, Anbar can not only achieve food security for its population but also become a regional exporter, boosting the country's economy and livelihoods.
By far, though, Anbar’s greatest asset is its people. A key illustration stands out.
Conflict had displaced 90 percent of Anbar’s population. I met with construction businesses in the Anbar city of Ramadi and told them we need to build infrastructure to bring our people home. But oil prices – the chief source of government revenue -- were near historic lows; the government could not afford to pay for the work. It didn’t matter. Based on the promise of payment, construction companies began building roads and other infrastructure. That Financial Times correctly reported that our people came home; this was how it happened. Investors will find the people of Anbar young, savvy, globally aware, entrepreneurial and industrious. They prefer to work for private companies and are utterly committed to bettering their homeland.
We believe Anbar is the greatest investment value in the region. Our time is now.
Mohamed Al-Halbousi is the speaker of Iraq’s parliament.