Under newly appointed Transport Minister Emir Jabbar, the General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) has leased one of nine berths at Umm Qasr’s south port to French shipping group CMA CGM on a one-year contract from mid-September. Similar deals are expected to be agreed with foreign operators soon.

In October, Baghdad will appoint an international consultant to oversee planning for the privatisation and development of the area around the port. An appointment had previously been close, before Jabbar temporarily froze all transport projects in Iraq while he studied his portfolio.

Jabar is to pursue the short-term lease agreements to ease concerns in Basra that privatisation and foreign management of Umm Qasr will mean relinquishing control of a national asset.

Meanwhile, GCPI says Umm Qasr will be fully compliant with the International Ship & Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) by early next year. The berths to be leased to foreign companies are already secure, with a port police force in place. “There is a security plan in place and ISPS observers are training staff,” says one senior GCPI official. “The whole port will be completely safe for any company to use within six months.”

The perimeter of Umm Qasr remains secured by the Iraqi army and police following an operation earlier this year to remove Sadrist insurgents that had taken control of the north port (MEED 25:4:08).