‘We are negotiating terms with investors from the Middle East and Europe,’ says a source in the Transportation Ministry. ‘We will conclude discussions in the next two months and then seek approval from the government.’

The project, to be built on a BOT basis with a 15-year concession, is expected to cost about $300 million. Its scope of works includes construction of a four-kilometre concrete runway with a width of 60 metres, a concrete taxiway with a width of 45 metres, an apron for at least 10 aircraft, a two-storey terminal with six passenger bridges, an air traffic control tower, various administrative buildings, a hotel, aircraft hangers and infrastructure.

Work has already started on transforming Najaf’s existing military airport at Al-Hamza into the Al-Imam Ali passenger airport, which will cater to domestic traffic. The decision to develop Najaf’s air infrastructure aims to serve religious pilgrims travelling to and from Iran. Until now, Shia pilgrims have been forced to travel along highways in predominantly Sunni areas near the Baghdad airport and between the capital and Najaf. The area, which is 90 miles south of Baghdad and near to Karbala, is home to several Shia shrines.