Hassan Abdul Zahra, AFP
Last updated: 27 September, 2011

Top Iraqi officials quit Islamic capital project

Several senior figures have pulled out of troubled plans for Iraq’s holy Shiite city of Najaf to become the Islamic Capital of Culture for the Arab world next year, officials said on Tuesday.

The deputy governor of Najaf province, the chief of the provincial council and the bloc loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which has its headquarters in Najaf, have all withdrawn from the project, which sees Najaf take over as Islamic Capital of Culture on January 1.

Earlier this year, officials responsible for implementing the plans admitted time was short, several projects were behind schedule and much of a half-billion-dollar budget had been hastily re-allocated.

“There are a number of problems in the spending rules and measures set by the ministry of culture and the central government,” Najaf Deputy Governor Razzaq Sharif, who had been heading the Najaf 2012 media committee, told AFP.

Sharif said authorities in Baghdad had not effectively delegated spending authority to the province, and added unspecified “factions were creating hurdles for the project” but refused to give details.

The Sadrist bloc, meanwhile, pulled out because committees were “unstable” and spending measures were needlessly complicated, said Jawad al-Karawi, a provincial councillor loyal to the movement.

Provincial council chief Faad al-Shammari, who belongs to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance, also resigned from his post as one of Najaf 2012’s project directors, but did give reasons why.

“Despite the withdrawals, the committees are still working well and have not been affected,” insisted Luay al-Yasiri, the deputy head of the Najaf 2012 security committee and another member of Maliki’s bloc. “We believe the project will be achieved on time.”

The Najaf celebrations are part of efforts by Iraqi authorities to put the country back on the cultural map, after the US-led invasion of 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein led to years of brutal sectarian war.

The overall budget for the Najaf ceremonies, including capital investment and cultural activities, is 537 billion Iraqi dinars ($455 million).

But earlier this year, officials noted many projects had yet to be assigned to contractors, and of those agreed, several would either not be ready in time or would be completed just before ceremonies begin.

An ambitious $170-million cultural programme has also been scaled back as money has had to be diverted to capital investment to upgrade the city’s infrastructure and hotels.