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Touchdown in Karbala: UK firm building airport for pilgrims

A UK company is building an airport in central Iraq [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2017

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A UK company has been awarded a potential $500 million contract to build an airport in central Iraq, easing travel for millions of Shia pilgrims to Karbala and Najaf.

A new airport in Iraq aimed at making travel easier for millions of pilgrims to Karbala each year is under construction.

Copperchase Ltd, a UK-based company, is building a runway, terminal, control tower and other facilities at a cost of between $250 million and $500 million, Nahidh Mohammed Salih, chairman of its Iraqi business, told Bloomberg.

Copperchase won the contract last week for "Karbala International Airport" - as it's named on its website - and with the first plane set to land in 18 months' time.

The airport will make it easier for Shia Muslims to visit the holy sites of Karbala and nearby Najaf.

The project is also part of efforts by Iraq, the second-largest member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), to diversify its oil-dependent economy, a strategy employed by the world's biggest oil producers after prices fell by more than half from 2014 levels.

The airport will have a capacity for 2 million to 2.5 million passengers a year once the first phase is built, Salih added.

The project will be funded by Khayrat Al Sobtayn, the finance arm of Iraq's Imam Hussein Shrine foundation, he said.

"This investment came at a time when world oil prices dropped sharply, and the government is in dire need for money to finance budget gap," Salar Mohammed Ameen, vice chairman of the National Investment Commission, said.

Salih estimated the project's three planned phases will cost a total of $2 billion. Work on the second and third phases will depend on demand, he said.

Most visitors travel to Iraq for religious occasions, with pilgrims mostly coming from Iran, Pakistan, India, Bahrain, Qatar, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and European countries.

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