China to help build 1,000 schools in war-torn Iraq after US announces end to combat mission
Published: Dec 20, 2021 08:35 PM
Students have their temperature checked before they enter school on the first day of the new school year in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 1, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

Students have their temperature checked before they enter school on the first day of the new school year in Baghdad, Iraq, Nov. 1, 2021.(Photo: Xinhua)

Chinese companies have signed deals to build 1,000 schools in Iraq, a long-stalled construction project, as part of moves to help reconstruct the war-torn Mideast country, local sources confirmed with the Global Times, after the US announced it would formally end its combat mission in Iraq.

Chinese businessmen said the resumption of school projects represents Chinese companies' growing interest in a country along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where "a thousand things wait to be done" based on the principle of mutual benefit and win-win - a sharp contrast to that of US investment. But they also cautioned that risks remain with regard to Iraq's political stability as well as security and trust issues. 

According to a recent tweet by the government of Iraq, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi oversaw the signing of the school contracts last week, within the framework agreement between the two governments. The Chinese side was represented by the Vice President of Power China and the regional director of Sino Tech.

A spokesperson of Power China confirmed with the Global Times that it will construct 697 schools in Iraq. The remaining 321 units will be built by Sino Tech.

Chinese industry insiders said the contract is an "immediate help" to Iraq, where a lack of education opportunities have largely hindered the development and the country's rebuilding efforts. 

About 3.2 million school-aged Iraqi children do not have access to education, according to UNICEF.

"China's investment is out of humanitarianism aid. Schools span across Iraq, which means security expenses are huge amid lingering political instability and profit for Chinese state-owned companies are slim," Chen Xianzhong, a Chinese entrepreneur who has been investing in Iraq for more than 20 years, told the Global Times on Monday. Adding that the school-building project had been suspended for many years due to security issues. 

Chen said some Iraqi businessmen contacted him, hoping to sub-contract the school construction project. 

According to Iraq news outlets, the deal is part of a wider agreement reached between China and Iraq last November to build 7,000 schools. 

Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Monday that the China-built school projects will grow the seeds for more non-government "people-to-people and cultural exchanges" between China and Iraq at a time when Washington is gradually withdrawing its influence in the Middle East. 

China is now the biggest buyer of Iraq oil, according to China's Ministry of Commerce. Chinese businessmen said that in addition to energy, Chinese firms could also invest in construction, water processing and ports in Iraq. 

"Major projects in Iraq are still monopolized by US and European firms, so we need time to build trust with the locals. The development of a mature governing system remains slow in Iraq due to religious factors, which creates uncertainty in the business environment," Chen cautioned.
Observers said that the US influence will remain relevant in the Middle East for some time, but the trend of declining influence is irreversible.