Iraq's Grand al-Faw Port has game-changing potential, despite delays

By Khalid al-Taie

Pile-drivers install pillars for the berths of Basra's Grand al-Faw Port on January 17. [Iraqi Ports Facebook page]

Pile-drivers install pillars for the berths of Basra's Grand al-Faw Port on January 17. [Iraqi Ports Facebook page]

Progress is being made on the Grand al-Faw Port project in Basra, with some of the key infrastructure more than 60% finished and the government keen to have it completed on schedule, Iraqi government sources said.

Work began on the port project in 2010 with the construction of an 8km eastern breakwater and a 16km western breakwater that will keep silt out of the shipping channel on the estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

This work is being carried out by Archirodon, a Greek firm, and Daewoo, a South Korean company.

Construction on the massive seaport project -- which occupies a total area of 54 square km -- was hindered by the battle to oust the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) and other pressure on the federal budget.

Iraqi labourers get ready to start work at the Grand al-Faw Port in Basra on May 9. [Iraqi Ports Facebook page]

Iraqi labourers get ready to start work at the Grand al-Faw Port in Basra on May 9. [Iraqi Ports Facebook page]

The project also faced obstruction from influential supporters of Iran, which fought to have the project awarded to a Chinese company instead of Daewoo, which eventually received the award.

In December 2020, the government signed a $2.625 billion deal with Daewoo after excluding the Chinese Maritime Customs Service (CMCS) company from competition as it was not specialised in port construction, Iraqi officials said.

Iraqi financing

Though the port project was offered for investment several times, notably during a 2016 conference in Basra attended by representatives of dozens of giant companies, competitive investment offers were not forthcoming.

In the absence of outside interest, the Iraqi government decided to finance the port's infrastructure construction itself, in a bid to encourage investors.

The construction of infrastructure -- the first phase of the project -- is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2025.

After this is completed, contracts for the operation of the port and expansion and development works will be offered as investment opportunities.

"Work at Grand al-Faw Port is progressing at a good pace," General Company for Iraqi Ports director general Farhan al-Fartousi told Al-Mashareq.

"We have achieved a completion rate of more than 60% in some works related to berth construction," he said.

Initially, the port will consist of five specialised berths for receiving ships, in addition to operating and loading equipment and a yard for handling and storing containers.

Through investment, the port has the potential to expand to 90 berths, with a total annual capacity of 99 million tonnes, which would make it one of the Gulf's largest ports and the 10th largest in the world.

Supporting infrastructure

Al-Fartousi said a good percentage of the work in related infrastructure projects has been completed, including the construction of a road linking al-Faw port with the highway in Umm Qasr.

This will be the starting point of Iraq's Development Road project, which is expected to link Iraq's seaports with Turkey and onwards to Europe.

The al-Faw port-Umm Qasr road will be 63km in length, with four lanes in each direction, two bridges, three roundabouts and service facilities.

It will pass through an underwater tunnel -- 2,250 metres long and 38 metres wide, with three lanes of traffic in each direction -- that is being built under the Khor al-Zubayr Canal as part of the port's construction works.

The tunnel will be the first of its kind in the Middle East in terms of its ability to accommodate the passage of giant transport trucks.

The construction of the new road and tunnel is meant to create a shorter alternative to the old Basra road, which is more than twice as long.

Al-Fartousi said the government is giving much attention to the Grand al-Faw Port project, and is keen to complete it without any delay, because of its importance and benefit to the country.

Labour market boost

The port's estimated revenue, after completion, will exceed $5 billion annually.

Iraqi MP Zahra al-Bajari, who chairs the parliamentary transportation and communications committee, told Al-Mashareq that the port, if completed, would bring about a quantum economic leap for Iraq.

It is expected to boost the state's financial resources and reduce its dependence on oil, she said.

It also opens the door for investment and puts the country on the path of development and prosperity, especially if it is integrated with other economic projects such as the strategic Development Road, she said.

The Grand al-Faw Port project has so far created more than 10,000 jobs for Iraqis, with Iraqi workers -- the majority of whom are from the city of Basra --accounting for about 70% of its workforce.

It is expected that upon the inauguration of the port, it will provide thousands of jobs and revitalise the Iraqi labour market.

Al-Bajari said that the necessary financial allocations for the port will come from Iraq's general budget for the next three years to ensure its completion on schedule.

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