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Violence Slashes Ramadi Property Prices

Real estate market plunges as residents leave Iraq's western province.
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Continuing violence and instability in the western town of Ramadi has forced many people to flee to safer areas and driven down property prices, local residents and estate agents say.



While there are no firm statistics, real estate prices are estimated have fallen by about 40 per cent over the last six months in Ramadi, the capital of the volatile Anbar province.



Ramadi, 110 kilometres west of Baghdad in Iraq's largest province, is a stronghold of insurgent forces including Islamic extremists such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda group. It is one of the most dangerous cities in the country, with regular clashes between militants and United States troops, who use rooftops as sniper lookouts.



Ismael al-Dulaimi, a 38-year-old wholeseller of construction materials, has lived in Ramadi all his life. Although he owns or leases nearly 20 properties, he is packing up and moving to Baghdad "so that my children can live a relatively normal life away from daily violence and terror".



Just to get out of the city, Dulaimi said, he sold the lease on 15 shops for a total of only seven million dinars (4,700 dollars) even though the 25-year arrangement was worth 15 million dinars.



In the year after United Nations-imposed sanctions were lifted in 2003, the economy flourished and Iraqis poured their money into property investments, even in places like Anbar which was known for being Iraq's unstable "Wild West" even under Saddam. As a result, real estate prices in Ramadi skyrocketed by about 50 per cent, according to Sara Abdul-Wahab, an economic researcher at Anbar university.



But security crumbled quickly. Now, many Ramadi residents are too afraid to leave their homes and have fled to Baghdad and Qaim, a more secure town in Anbar. Few people are moving in to take their place.



"We have many houses to sell, but there is no demand," said Hamid al-Kubaisi, an estate agent in the city.



A 300-square metre house which would previously have sold for about 100 million Iraqi dinars (about 67,800 US dollars) is now going for about 60 million dinars.



A property dealer who gave his name as Abu Marwan said he and his colleagues are very concerned about the worsening security situation and falling house prices.



"If it goes on this way, I expect that all properties will sell at very cheap prices and there will be a mass exodus," he said.



It is unclear how many people have been displaced from Anbar, where the government has a very weak presence and does not keep statistics.



There are, however, some who are determined to stay.



Muayad Tawfiq, a 38-year-old computer salesman, said, “I won't leave Ramadi as it is the home where I experienced well-being after living in dire poverty… in Basra."



"I have shops and houses in Ramadi, and I won't leave or sell any of my properties. I won't leave Ramadi. The people there are my own kin."



Yasin al-Dulaimi is an IWPR contributor in Ramadi.

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