From Ruins of War: How Iraq is Building Back Greener & Better

After more than 50 years of death and destruction, government officials are planting more trees and turning their back on concrete as the country squares up to climate change.

Mon 01 Apr 24


Less than three years after the end of combat, Iraq is kickstarting a new green economy – and is now committed to widespread tree planting and green construction to rebuild after the war and is now preparing for life after oil.

It comes as the Iraqi government greenlit the Baghdad Sustainable Forests project yesterday. The project will see the former Rasheed Military Camp—one of Iraq’s largest military installations—converted into a 500,000-square-metre urban forest supported by hotels, shopping centres, and community activation points.

It is the latest activation project, with more than US $100 billion needed to rebuild Iraq following the US-led operation, the toppling of Saddam Hussein, and the rise and fall of Islamic State – with Iraqi officials now taking inspiration from how Western Europe rebuilt in the aftermath of Second World War.

“Among carefully chosen trees include the Perennial Alipsia tree, known for its shade-providing capabilities, the Sidr tree (Nadak), the timeless Olive tree, the Egyptian Acacia tree adorned with yellow flowers, and the African Acacia tree,” according to Iraqi media.

It’s been more than a decade since the end of the Iraq War. Much of the country still bears the scars of the US-led invasion. But Iraqis today are working to clean up their country, and some have turned to technology for help – footage courtesy of @VOANews.

Meanwhile, “adding the Red Floral Glass Brush, the Elias tree with its distinctive aromatic scent, and the Dwarf Bougainvillea promises a sensory-rich experience for parkgoers.”

As one of the Middle East’s most vulnerable nations to climate change, Iraq is facing a daunting challenge. Despite boasting the world’s fifth largest oil reserves (140 billion barrels of supply), over 15% of its land is now in a state of desertification. This environmental crisis has left more than 7 million Iraqi citizens grappling with extreme weather, natural disasters, and a dwindling water supply.

To address this, the Iraqi government launched its very own Green Wall Initiative, pledging to plant more than 5 million new trees in the major population centres of Baghdad, Basra, and Diyala with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“The planting of trees will be done by local farmers and citizens,” according to media connected to the Iraqi government, adding that the campaign focuses on “creating green jobs and promoting sustainable agricultural practices.”

The latest push comes after policy markers have spent years looking at different scenarios to rebuild war-torn cities after decades of conflict.

The Baghdad Sustainable Forests project will see a giant forest take root in the centre of Baghdad. (Photo Credit: Iraqi News Media)

In 2012, Dr Akram Al-Akkram published Towards Environmentally Sustainable Urban Regeneration: A Framework for Baghdad City Centre, reporting that “Baghdad city centre was suffering from many problems such as environmental pollution, a low standard of infrastructure, functional disorder, traffic congestion, uncontrolled land use and deteriorated physical condition.”

According to Dr Akram, the key is to rebuild Iraq piece by piece, prioritising the protection of historically significant artefacts in line with formalised Sustainable Guidelines. 

“The findings illustrate that… conservation-led regeneration for compact city centres (like Baghdad) is more environmentally relevant than a large-scale development process.”

Already, “Dream City” neighbourhoods are starting to rise in the outer suburbs of Baghdad, with residents enjoying running water, continuous electricity, city gas, garbage collection, quality schools, supermarkets, and playgrounds. The reconstruction of Baghdad is in full swing.

In 2022, World Crunch reported that the Baghdad opera house is now regularly sold out, and a music festival has been held in the mythical ruins of Babylon for the first time in 20 years.

Concrete-based shopping malls are now springing up all over the city and are home to the world’s biggest brands and teem with people as soon as night falls. With Saddam gone and ISIS defeated the fragile peace is putting wind in the sails of a middle class eager to invent a future for itself.

Amid the construction boom, engineers are now considering timber-based construction as an alternative to the more popular concrete-based construction, driven by younger generations’ expectations. 

March 2023 marked 20 years since the start of the war in Iraq. NBC’s Richard Engel travelled to the country to discover how it has changed over the last two decades—footage courtesy of @TODAY.

In October 2021, Mohanad Yaseen Abdulwahid, Isaac Galobardes, and Hassan Radoine examined the barriers and opportunities to expanding timber-based construction in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region.

“The lack of wood in semi-arid countries such as Iraq is seen as an impediment to using timber as a primary construction material,” they said, before noting that “despite these drawbacks, studies show that young people (in Iraq) regard timber construction positively in comparison to other construction methods.”

“There is no national building code in Iraq,” with Iraqi engineers and designers instead using American and European codes and standards to design and construct buildings to standards – with a need to develop new building codes to address an absence of expertise and knowledge in timber technology.

In doing so, Iraq can capitalise on the push to embrace mass timber and join the many countries that, over the last 20 years, have greatly increased the number of timber buildings under construction.

Balancing the needs of the growing middle classes—eager to reinvent itself following more than 50 years of destruction and the looming climate crisis—is poised to define Iraq’s recovery. 


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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