Once a traditionally socialist country, Iraq is witnessing a burgeoning growth in malls, according to a report.
Big malls are being built across the capital, Baghdad, the largest will include a five-star hotel and a hospital, and at one already in operation, a truck arrives each week carrying frozen Big Macs from a McDonald’s in Amman, Jordan, The International Herald Tribune reported on Monday.
On the edge of the upper-class neighborhood of Mansour a huge mall is under construction and will eclipse any of the existing malls. Boutiques will sell Western brands like Ecco shoes, Zara suits and Timberland outdoor apparel, and there are plans for a video game arcade, several cinemas, more than a dozen restaurants and a bowling alley.
“People have to have fun,” said Maythem Shakir, the chief engineer of the $25 million project, which is being underwritten by a group of wealthy Iraqis and built by a Turkish company.
“People have to have the same things as everyone else in the world.”
Lamiya al-Rifaee, 40, a mother and a businesswoman, however, complained that the mall was not as big or as fancy as the ones she had visited in Dubai or Turkey. But for Iraq, she said, it is a good start, and one of the few places where she would let her children out of her sight.
“I can watch my kids playing safely and get whatever I need in the stores.”
While, the construction boom is encouraged and hailed as proof of Iraq’s progress, economists and other experts warn of a dark side. They say that the budding consumer culture covers fundamental flaws in an economy by stifling productive enterprise through the sole dependence on oil profits.
“Basically, Iraq is trying to build a consumer society, not on state capitalism like in China, but on socialism,” said Marie-Helene Bricknell, the World Bank’s representative in Iraq.
The country, mainly dependent on government jobs, also suffers from a patronage system that can quash entrepreneurial and private spirit.
“The state’s payrolls have massively expanded, not with technocrats but with party functionaries, because the state has become a way of funding party loyalty,” said Toby Dodge, a professor at the London School of Economics, at a recent panel discussion in London about Iraq.