Iraqis turn abandoned US prison camps into hotels | world | Hindustan Times
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Iraqis turn abandoned US prison camps into hotels

world Updated: Dec 04, 2011 23:45 IST
Andrew E Kramer

The road approaching the Basra Gateway hotel in southern Iraq crosses a landscape so blighted with trash and spilled crude oil, which shimmers in gigantic pools in the sand, that it is difficult to imagine any guests ever passing this way.

When they do arrive, guests are greeted by a jumble of concrete blocks, sand bags and barbed wire — the hotel’s front gate.

Instead of a doorman, Basra Gateway employs a gunman.

He smiles and pulls back a coil of razor wire, welcoming travelers to this improbable hotel, which has opened within what used to be Camp Bucca, an American prison base with a notorious reputation among the people in Iraq.

Basra Gateway is one of the fledgling efforts by companies in Iraq to make good commercial use of hundreds of recently abandoned American military bases — usually desolate, off-putting ensembles of concrete on the edges of towns.

The hotel’s developer and operator, the Kufan Group, is hoping to lure executives from oil and oil-services companies that operate in the nearby fields. The trailers-cum-hotel rooms go for about $190 a night, and they can be booked only in blocks in advance.

“The dream that we have is to turn this into a commercial oasis,” said Maythem H al-Asadi, Kufan’s president. “It’s only a matter of time.”

The company’s venture relies on hundreds of American military residential trailers, known as CHUs, from the acronym for containerized housing unit. They had once accommodated guards. Kufan workers installed indoor plumbing in some, creating the guest rooms.

Besides the few upgrades to the trailers, the prison remains unaltered and eerily empty, the wind whistling through the old guard towers.

The US military is handing over all bases to the Iraqi government by the end of the year. Only about a half-dozen of the 505 bases in Iraq are still in American hands.

Most are becoming Iraqi military bases, with some exceptions.

The Saddam Hussein-era palaces at the Victory Base Complex near Baghdad, once used by American generals, for example, may become a convention center.

Other bases, left empty by the Americans, were promptly looted of air-conditioners and refrigerators, items now showing up in Iraqi flea markets.

The transformation is emblematic of one particularly optimistic vision, held by some businessmen, of what Iraq may become after the US withdrawal, despite lingering sectarian tensions and persistent insurgent violence.

Iraq, they say, is poised now to move quickly from war to an oil boom of historic proportions that will quickly inflate the economy and generate exceptional opportunities for companies that get in early.

The city of Basra, despite its present impoverished appearance, sits above immense wealth.

Oil production is projected to increase faster in Iraq than in any other country in the world over the next 25 years, according to International Energy Agency projections.