Iraq signs deal to modernize major port in Basra

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By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq on Tuesday signed a $14 million deal with a U.S. consortium to modernize a major port in the country's southern province of Basra in a move aimed at developing key infrastructure neglected during years of war and sanctions.

Under the 10-year agreement with a consortium led by North America Western Asia Holdings, the companies will invest in a new heavy-lift crane as well as container handling capabilities and build a modern container yard in one of the 14 berths in the Maqal Port on Shatt al-Arab waterway, the company said in a statement.

The consortium also will dredge Shatt al-Arab, which is currently unable to welcome deep-water vessels because of years of neglect, to nine meters (yards) to make it a "deep water" port, the statement added. The 93-year-old port is one of four in Basra on the Persian Gulf for commercial goods.

The Shatt al-Arab waterway — known in Iran as Arvand River — is formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates river, meandering south between Iran and Iraq before it spills into the northern Persian Gulf. Basra, where the signing ceremony took place, is located some 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad.

"Modernizing Maqal Port is one step in Iraq's greater vision to improve and expand our country's shipping and port capabilities," the Iraqi minister of transportation, Hadi al-Amiri, said in a statement. He added that NAWAH's commitment to Iraq's long-term economic growth "sends a strong message to other American and international investors that Iraq is truly ripe for investment."

One of the two companies teaming up with NAWAH is the New Jersey-based Triton Container International Ltd., which is the world's largest owner-lessor of marine cargo containers with operations in 15 countries and more than 200 depot locations worldwide. The other is the Chicago-based Marmon Crane Services, an international owner, operator and lessor of crane equipment that operates in 14 countries around the world.

NAWAH, which is based in Washington DC and is chaired by Paul Brinkley, a former U.S. Defense Department official who sought to attract companies to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraq's oil-reliant economy is expected to see significant growth in the coming year as it has awarded 15 oil and gas deals to international energy companies since 2008, the first major investments in the country's energy industry in more than three decades.

The original goal was to boost daily production from about 3 million barrels now to 12 million barrels by 2017. That may be revised downward to fewer than 10 million barrels, however, because of infrastructure bottlenecks and a possible falloff in demand on international markets.

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