You began serving as the Mayor of Erbil in 2004. What would you say has been your office’s biggest success story since that time?
I would have to say that the greatest success has been the growth of the city itself. Before 2004, Erbil did not look anything like it does today. If you looked at a picture of Erbil in 2004 and one of Erbil in 2013, you would probably assume that the time difference between the two images was actually 30 or 40 years rather than 8 or 9. This growth is in terms of both the population and the infrastructure itself. In 2004, the population here was roughly 500,000. Today, I am the Mayor of over 1.1 million people. In 2004, the only proper road was 60 Meter Street. Today, there is a modern traffic system with many proper roads, including 30 Meter and the 100 Meter Streets. The same is true for the number of buildings, the electricity network, and the general infrastructure. All of this development happened after 2004.
Are there still areas that require further development or modernization?
There are many other areas that are in need of further development. Perhaps one of the biggest issues facing the city of Erbil is its antiquated sewage system. The system we currently have in place is very old and out of date. In addition, as I said before, the population of the city has more than doubled since 2004. So, we can’t simply repair or refurbish the sewage system; it needs to be rebuilt from the beginning. However, to do so requires a massive investment from the government. An independent study was conducted regarding the sewage system of Erbil and from that study a strategic Master Plan was devised. That plan called for a budget of $2 billion. So, the design is ready, but the amount of money required to make such drastic changes is very high.
Can you tell us about the work being done at the historic Erbil Citadel? What are the planned changes and when are they expected to be completed?
The Citadel itself will stay as it is, but it will be renovated. The basic plan calls for the area to be used as a center for cultural activities. For example, the French and Turkish consulates are already planning to have cultural offices within the Citadel, and other delegations are following suit. We hope that, with time, the area will become the cultural center of Erbil. To help facilitate this change, some of the old houses will be renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants, and hotels. Then there are other changes that are being carried out for more historical purposes. For example, we have already begun work at the main entrance to the Citadel. The current gate was constructed during the era of Saddam Hussein and reflects Babylonian designs rather than Kurdish. Our plan calls for the gate to be redesigned to reflect its original structure. However, because the Citadel has existed for thousands of years, there is much archaeological preservation to be done before most of these plans can be carried out. All the work in the Citadel is being overseen by UNESCO so as to ensure that proper protocol is observed at all times. I personally believe that the work will take approximately 10 to 15 years.
How do you expect the city to continue to grow and develop?
Our priority for the next few years is to renew the old quarters of the city of Erbil. There are many areas here that are very old or run-down, and are in need of revitalization or renovation. In addition, there are many changes planned for the area around the Citadel itself. All the buildings surrounding the Citadel, including the Erbil Governor’s office, will be demolished. A few historical structures, such as this office and the bazaar, will stay in their present locations. However, they will, of course, be heavily renovated. The rest will be demolished and rebuilt as cultural areas or parks. This is all being done to help revitalize and modernize Erbil, and more accurately reflect the history and culture of its people.