The Rasheed was closed in 2010 to renovate them for the Arab summit last March
View of Baghdad's renowned Al-Rasheed hotel. Baghdad's renowned Al-Rasheed hotel reopened on Friday, the only luxury commercial lodging inside the Iraqi capital's Green Zone and a centrepiece of the country's drive to attract foreign investors. © Ali al-Saadi - AFP
The Rasheed was closed in 2010 to renovate them for the Arab summit last March
Anwar Faruqi, AFP
Last updated: July 16, 2011

Baghdad's legendary Al-Rasheed hotel reopens

Baghdad's renowned Al-Rasheed hotel has opened again. It is the only luxury commercial lodging inside the Iraqi capital's Green Zone and a centrepiece of the country's drive to attract foreign investors.

Guests entering the hotel once had to tread over a mosaic of former US president George Bush senior placed on the floor -- an insult reportedly ordered by dictator Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War.

The Rasheed, and Baghdad's five other largest hotels, were closed last year to renovate them for an Arab summit last March, which was first postponed and then called off until next year.

That final postponement came after Baghdad's relations with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia chilled over the two Gulf countries sending troops to help put down a Shiite uprising in Bahrain, sparking criticism from Iraq's Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that the renovations were not only about the summit.

"The rebuilding of infrastructure, including palaces and airports, is evidence of the ability of Iraqis to achieve what they want -- not for the Arab summit, but to revive Baghdad again and to encourage foreign investment," he told reporters and dignitaries.

The Rasheed is the only luxury hotel inside the heavily protected Green Zone, which houses the US and British embassies, as well the Iraqi parliament and the prime minister's office.

Everything from the wallpaper to the glittering chandeliers and plush carpets were imported from Britain, said Mazin Wajih, managing director of Harlow International, the British firm contracted for the refurbishment.

"Everything has been brought in from the UK," he told AFP. "This has been under the scrutiny of the Kempinski Hotel group, which approved the majority of the designs," he added.

The renovation costs were between $60 million-$65 million (42.5-46 million euros), he said, adding that Swiss-based Kempinski would manage the property, under contract with his company.

"The hotel has 450 rooms and suites, and will be open to guests around August or September -- that's our best guess," said Wajih, who holds dual Iraqi and British nationality.

The total refurbishment cost of all six hotels was estimated at $450 million by the Iraqi government.

Also renovated or under renovation are the Mansour, the Palestine, the Ishtar -- formerly Sheraton -- the Baghdad and the Babil, all of which have been targeted by car bombs or other violence since the invasion in 2003.

One of the first things that US forces did only weeks after entering Baghdad was to tear up the world-famous mosaic of the first American president who ordered war against Iraq.

It was said that Saddam had personally chosen the location of the mosaic.

A visit to the hotel, a Baghdad landmark, was a must for all foreign dignitaries, including United Nations inspectors searching for Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

After the invasion the lobby of the hotel was ransacked by looters who stole furniture, television sets and computers.

In October 2003, then US assistant secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz escaped a rocket attack which killed a US soldier and wounded 17 other people, including 14 foreigners.

In recent years, the hotel has been a regular target of rockets fired into the Green Zone, with a July 4 attack killing five people and wounding seven others.

In January 2010, the hotel's employees went on strike for the first time since its opening in 1983 to demand a risk premium in their salaries.

Iraq has not held a regular Arab summit since November 1978, although it did host an extraordinary session of the Arab League in Baghdad in May 1990.

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