The Transportation Ministry will issue a tender in January seeking expressions of interest from international ports operators to take over the running of the container terminal at the site’s southern port.
“We want to increase productivity at the port as it will have a huge impact on the rebuilding of Iraq,” says Bangen Rekani, acting Transport Minister. “We estimate redevelopment of the south terminal will cost about $500m.”
Work is set to begin in January to clear the channel to the port and the Shatt al-Arab waterway south of Basra, where the wrecks of some 230 ships have been abandoned. The waterway has also become severely silted up and $100m will be spent on two dredgers to clear the main route to the port.
However, advisers on the project estimate that at least $1bn is required to remove the silt and just nine of the most dangerously placed wrecks.
Corruption at Umm Qasr is also an issue. The port authority is known to have been infiltrated by the Shia insurgent group Jaysh Al-Mahdi. As a result, barely a fraction of revenues are reaching the national or provincial coffers.
“The Transport Ministry rec-ognises the problem of loss of revenue from the port,” says Michael McCormick, transport attache at the US embassy in Baghdad and policy adviser to the government. “It is working to put together a security plan to control the situation.”