Preparations are on their way in the Dhi Qar province of Iraq to construct five cultural palaces containing buildings with ceremony and meeting halls, museums, theatre works and art exhibits.
The palaces, which are to be built in al-Nasiriyah, al-Shatra, Souq al-Shuyoukh, al-Rifai and al-Jibayish, come as part of several projects to uplift the cultural scene in the province and to honour Dhi Qar as the 2014 Capital of Iraqi Culture, said provincial governor Yahya Mohammed Baqir al-Nasseri.
He said, "Our province has an important historical status and memory because it is home to numerous archaeological sites, monuments and natural landmarks related to its civilisation, and highlighting this cultural identity is not only an achievement for the province but for Iraq as a whole."
Al-Nasseri estimated the budget for the Dhi Qar Capital of Iraqi Culture project at 100 billion ($86 million) including between 18 billion dinars ($15.5 million) and 20 billion dinars ($17.2 million) that will be allocated for the construction of each of the five cultural palaces.
He also reported, "Meetings will be held in the near future with the Ministry of Culture to determine the main features of the joint plan, and proceed with the construction of the cultural projects as soon as sufficient funds are released under this year's state budget."
Al-Nasseri called on all intellectuals and innovators, particularly among Dhi Qar residents, to participate in ensuring the success of such cultural activities.
The palaces project hinges on two basic pivots, said Aqeel al-Mandalawi, director general of the ministry's cultural relations directorate.
He mentioned, "The first is investment-related and includes encouraging the local provincial administration to allocate plots of land in the districts for building the cultural infrastructure projects," and added further, "In this regard, logistical efforts are now under way alongside engineering and consultancy offices to prepare the designs for projects including those of the five cultural palaces or houses that are to be established in the province."
He made the point clear, "We were keen on ensuring that every palace will have cultural facilities, such as auditoriums for cinema and theatre shows, and halls for museum displays, handcrafts, plastic arts, heritage exhibitions and other services."
The second pivot involves planning for future cultural activities and festivals, both on a local and international level, to reflect the province's heritage as the cradle of Mesopotamian civilizations and to call attention to its cultural and humanitarian characteristics and makeup, he said.
In this regard, the ministry plans to print 50 works by well-known authors, writers and intellectuals from Dhi Qar on the province's history, civilization, arts, personalities and landmarks, as well as on its role and impact on the overall cultural scene in Iraq, al-Mandalawi said.
He estimated that work would begin on the new projects in the second half of 2014. "Funds for the cultural projects will be provided either through Dhi Qar's share in the regional development budget, which is part of the state's general budget for this year, or through a special expenditure budget specifically allocated for the execution of these projects through our ministry," he said.
Batoul Farouk, of the parliamentary culture and media committee, welcomed the new plan. She mentioned, "We support the cultural palace-building project in Dhi Qar, and believe such projects are crucial in helping uplift the cultural scene in the province, especially since [the province] has numerous historical and cultural landmarks and has played an influential role in bolstering Iraqi culture throughout the years with its creative assets and cultural and innovative contributions."