Governor Sharad is from the same Dawa Party as Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki. That link would ordinarily bode well for Basra's chances of getting more federal help. But the plunge in oil prices – from nearly $150 a barrel last year to around $50 a barrel, is hampering rebuilding.
Almost all planned capital spending for government ministries has disappeared as the 2009 budget has been cut – twice already this year.
But Basra's struggles began well before the drop in oil prices. More than 70 percent of Iraq's oil revenue comes from the nearby southern oil fields. But Basra, battered during the Iran-Iraq war and then punished by Saddam Hussein for the 1991 Shiite uprising, has never seen much of it.
"We want to raise the profile of Basra. The government previously didn't pay too much attention to the dense population here perhaps," says the governor, a professor of Arabic literature. "We intend it to be the economic heart for the whole of Iraq."
Right now it's a heart barely beating. Although the city has an educated work force and enough stability now to allow reconstruction, years of neglect and three wars in 30 years have left the infrastructure in such bad shape it will take hundreds of billions of dollars to repair.
During Britain's six years in charge, its main project was a water treatment plant that now supplies clean water to a million people. But there are still no sewage systems in most of the city and electricity is intermittent: residents get only three hours on and three hours off – on a good day.
Signs of recovery