US and other international sources have dismissed Iraqi claims that contractors are about to start bidding for deals to build Baghdad’s $3bn metro.

Baghdad’s Mayor Sabir al-Issawi claimed on 12 September that he had prequalified seven international companies and had given them six months to bid for the construction contracts for the project.

However, sources monitoring the project say there is no evidence that project is at such an advanced stage.

“We have seen no specifics on financing or who the companies involved are, nothing to give any indication that the project is close to moving forward,” says a US source in Baghdad.

“Maybe they have identified a shortlist of companies, but it’s not at all clear that those companies know that they have been shortlisted.”

According to international contractors monitoring the project, the only work now available is assisting Baghdad to draw up terms for the consultancy contract to design the metro. 

“We have been trying to get answers about this since the mayor announced the project last year, but there is a real lack of information from Baghdad,” says one international consultant.

“We expressed interest earlier in the year in undertaking a design study for the project, but as far as we can tell they have only got as far as setting out terms of reference for the consulting work. We don’t believe that there is sufficient funding in place.”

The timing of Al-Issawi’s latest announcement has also caused consternation. Iraq will hold elections in January 2010 and the mayor’s statement on the metro is widely regarded as an attempt to gain attention in the run-up to the elections.

The mayor has a track record of using announcements of major projects for his own electoral benefit. Al-Issawi resurrected the defunct metro scheme in 2008. On 18 November, weeks before provincial elections in January 2009, Al-Issawi declared that the government would put aside funds from the 2009 national budget to carry out a feasibility study into the metro. The study has not yet been undertaken.

“These sort of announcements tend to pop up now and again when it is expedient to do so. I would be surprised if the timing of this announcement is coincidental,” says the US source.

Consultants have not dismissed the project entirely, however, and continue to monitor developments in Baghdad in case the mayor launches a bidding process.

The proposed 39-kilometre-long route will involve two lines crossing the city, linking Baghdad’s sectarian neighbourhoods.

Al-Issawi could not be reached for comment.