An artist’s impression of Arbil Media City. The media free zone has been fashioned along the same lines as Dubai Media City. Image Credit: Courtesy: Arbil Media City

Arbil Sitting in his sleek new office at a premium gated community in the capital of northern Iraq's Kurdistan region, Anwar Al Yasri is more than content to showcase his long-awaited mega project — Arbil Media City — to visitors.

The $1.6 billion (Dh5.88 billion) media free zone has been on his drawing board for more than seven years.

In 2006, the Emirati entrepreneur and media mogul made headlines with the Arbil Media City, which was fashioned along the lines of Dubai Media City. But the project, which was supposed to have been up and running by 2009, was never finalised.

Investors pull out

"Because of the recession in 2008, most of the foreign investors pulled out of the project," Al Yasri, also the CEO of Dubai Sound & TV (DST), a production firm, said.

Nevertheless, he did not give up on his dream. And last year, he revived the project with other investors whom he prefers not to name. The reasons why he chose Arbil for his media hub are simple, Al Yasri said.

"Iraq is a strategically important country; it's a bridge between Europe, Asia and the Middle East. If you look at the map, you'll see Arbil, a city that is almost centrally located in the war zones and politically sensitive areas of the wider Middle East region. And Arbil, as the capital of the business-friendly and secure Kurdistan region, stands out clearly as an oasis of peace and prosperity.

"Add to this Kurdistan's climate, which is very pleasant, and complemented by the mountain and lush green forests, the thousands of years of ancient Mesopotamian history, and the recent boom in luxurious developments such as hotels, malls and housing developments. It will all be very appealing to production crew."

More importantly, Kurdistan's highly educated and fairly inexpensive labour force is the biggest draw. Furthermore, he notes, some of the best Middle Eastern cameramen, editors, light and sound engineers and journalists are originally from Iraq.

The tax-free media zone is located on a large 500,000 square metre plot on the strategically located Arbil-Salahaddin (Masif) Highway, and is a 20-minute ride from Arbil International Airport and downtown Arbil.

Four phases

The project is divided into four main phases: phase one has been under construction since June and expected to finish towards the end of 2014. It includes two high-rises, studios and other services needed for broadcasting.

During the second and third phases, hotels and apartments will come online, including a 35-storey luxury hotel. Phase four will include a large shopping mall, a shopping and dining area partly modelled on Dubai's Jumeirah Beach Residence, and a 400x200 metre man-made lake with a dancing fountain.

Furthermore, 200 villas and eight other office high-rises are also included in the project, which will be fully developed within three to five years.

So far, a number of Iraqi, other Middle Eastern and global broadcasters have applied for slots.

Once the TV production and studio buildings open by the end of 2014, a large TV network will be established which will have separate news and entertainment channels broadcasting from Arbil Media City.

The Arbil Media City will be fully sustainable, and is said to be the first time such measures are being taken in Iraq.

Global film festival

Al Yasri's high hopes don't end here. When the City opens, he hopes to put Iraq back on the region's cultural and entertainment map.

The media hub will also have an annual international film festival and a music awards event.

"Now, who wouldn't want to work or live in such a city?" Al Yasri added.


Mariwan F. Salihi is a journalist based in Arbil.