Bringing Basra Back

Melanie Mingas visits Al Fayha Group’s Basra operation to find out how the company is fighting to re-build the city

Basra will be a major market for contractors as development continues.

For Al Fayha, the mission to rebuild Basra is a personal one. Dedicated to overcoming the power cuts, skills shortages and war, the group owns and operates eight companies across Iraq, which between them supplies almost every major project in Central and South Iraq.

With interests covering pre-cast, Real estate, steel works, shipping, oil & gas, fleet services, marine works and engineering, it is one of the largest private sector employers in Southern Iraq and has a personal goal to be at the forefront of the country’s regeneration.

“We feel things are going in the correct direction for us in Iraq right now, the worst has passed us, the security is going well and a lot of international companies are moving into the country,” observes managing director Khalid Al-Omar, who reveals that despite on-going wars, the groups’ factories have never closed their doors.

Of its four pre-cast factories located throughout Iraq, Al Fayha’s Basra plant is the largest, employing 1600 workers and producing 400m³ of pre-cast daily, mainly used for pre-cast piles on local projects. Co-located with a steel plant, and warehouses rented out to third party clients, the plant boasts three pre-cast production lines for pre-stress products, girders and slabs.

The product range covers concrete support walls, hollow core slabs for roofs, pipelines, pipe sleepers, manholes, walls, fences, pipe supports, pits and water tanks. Additionally Al Fayha is the only manufacturer producing tower guards.

All this is achieved against a back-drop of hardship, with the factory forced to install its own generators and personally train its workers to ensure standards. But considering what the facility has faced previously, conditions are moderate to say the least.

Driven by the sheer scale of development across Basra, Al Fayha can barely keep pace and despite its army of workers, deputy CEO Salahuddin Mr. Al-Ibrahim, says the local market is significantly bigger than the company.

“The market is so much more than us; Iraq could have at least 10 pre-cast companies of this size.

“We do have competitors and outsiders see this as a lucrative industry, but you can’t manufacture without quality and sometimes quality can affect our competitor’s product, especially those demanded by the international oil companies. They are looking for a standard that cannot be provided by everyone in our community,” he adds.

Since buying the facility from the Iraqi government in 1991, project highlights have included Ur Dry Dock, the first such dock in Iraq; civil works at the Iraqi Crude Oil Expedition Export Project; Abu Floos Fertilizer Factory; and Al Arab Mosque (see box for other projects).

The project specs are not for the faint hearted. The $3.5m Ur Dry Dock ran for three years and has a capacity of 4000 tonnes. Pre-cast products were used to cover all sides of the docks, which spanned a built up area of 2500m² and a total area of 50,000m².

The project also included paving the area using tubular piles and cross bridges, with a link bridge of 1m depth and a side walk of 100m length and 12m wide, all made form precast.

The Al Arab Mosque renovation and expansion project was conducted on an existing, 200 year old, structure. During the works Al Fayha constructed and installed a 9m diameter dome, reaching 14.5m in height, and a 30 metre high minaret all over a 12 month period.

Big projects

After a flurry of contract signings in Q2 of this year, the Basra factory was supplying more than 10 projects across various fields, when Big Project Middle East visited in October. But that still isn’t enough for Al-Ibrahim.

“We are not satisfied; we always want to be bigger.

“We try only to focus on the larger projects now, as these have the profit margins to allow us to grow as a business. For example, if we have one $10m dollar project and another that is $3m, it doesn’t matter because both require the same effort on the ground.

“We can do a string of $10m projects together, but have to segregate the project types we need,” he adds.

Of the current projects, the three largest are: the Al Fayha Residential Complex; Multiple supporting projects at the Sport City Stadium Complex; and a logistics city at Al Faw Port.

Al Fayha Residential Complex is located in Zubair and was made possible through the allocation of 250,000sqm of land granted by the local municipality to Al Fayha Real Estate Company.

Three housing types will be developed for the complex: 207 single storey units; 178 two storey units; and nine three storey buildings, with four flats per story. In total the delivered complex will have just under 500 units and will be supported by community services, such as childcare, healthcare and retail.

Located near Basra International Airport, Sports City is due for completion in 2013. The centre-piece of the development is a 65,000 seat main stadium, surrounded by a 10,000 seat secondary stadium, training fields, team housing and an ornamental lake.

Work at Al Faw Port’s Maamer Logistics Facility is currently half completed, with full completion due in six months. The project includes labour accommodation, helicopter landing area, concrete fencing with tower guards, open yards and warehouses.

Building from scratch

Al Fayha isn’t just contributing towards the re-build of Basra, but it’s helping to pioneer the local business environment by creating its own technical management infrastructures in house.

While the firm boasts a number of projects that it both supplies pre-cast for and initiates through the real estate division, funding projects, making the materials and executing the work still pose logistical challenges.

In the face of such setbacks, CEO Sarmad Al-Khudairi has personally head-hunted a core team of management professionals to work behind the scenes.

“The senior Managers were hand picked under the Guidelines of the MD Khalid Al-Omar. They should have Iraqi local experience, GCC or Western Countries exposures, customer service focused high dedication for quality and with proven good track record of completing tasks on time and on budget,” says Al Khudairi.

In recent months this team has created and implemented IT, HR and accounting systems, built from scratch by its in house talent, because such tools aren’t readily available on the local market but demanded by the international companies Al-Fayha partners with.

“The system doesn’t stand alone, it relies on people. In our company we have started to implement a number of systems and we are the only ones here that do that,” Al-Ibrahim shares.

Despite facing further issues in the funding and execution of projects, Al-Omar continues to lead his team towards the firm’s end goal. Speaking candidly, he says that while life on the ground in Iraq isn’t easy, seeing the results al Fayha produces drives the company to continue on its mission.

“This is my job, it is my career. Even though we are facing problems there, Iraq is my country. We know the customs and the people and we have knowledge of the whole country. This gives us experience, which provides the flexibility to deal with what happens there. We have faced two wars but we have never shut down the factory,” he says.

Considering the incredible level of opportunity currently emerging from Iraq, it could be time for the hard work to pay off.


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