Iraq has signed a US$14 million (Dh51.4m) agreement with an American infrastructure consortium headed by a former Pentagon official as well as the chairman of Hyatt Hotels, to modernise and operate Basra's downtown port facilities.
The contract, awarded by Iraq's transport ministry and the General Company for Ports of Iraq, covers the 93-year-old historic Maqal Port, and is part of a strategic upgrading of the country's Shatt Al Arab waterway ports.
Currently, Iraq's only other modern port is at Umm Qasr, about 64km along the Shatt Al Arab from Basra.
"Modernising Maqal Port is one step in Iraq's greater vision to improve and expand our country's shipping and port capabilities," said Hadi Al Amiri, the Iraqi transport minister. "It sends a strong message to international investors that Iraq is truly ripe for investment."
The consortium, headed by North America Western Asia Holdings (Nawah), will invest in a new heavy-lift crane as well as container-handling capabilities, and will build a modern container yard adjacent to one of the port's 14 berths.
As part of the 10-year agreement, it will also dredge the Shatt Al Arab to nine metres, transforming Maqal into a "deep water" port.
Other members of the consortium are the New Jersey-based Triton Container International, the world's largest owner-lessor of marine cargo containers, and the Chicago-based Marmon Crane Services, an international owner, operator and lessor of crane equipment that operates in 14 countries.
"The speed at which Iraq can rebuild and become prosperous is greatly dependent upon the capacity of its ports," said Paul Brinkley, the Nawah chief executive. "The modernisation of Maqal Port is an important step in helping Basra regain its status as a key regional trading hub."
Mr Brinkley is a former deputy under secretary at the US defence department and was director of the task force for business and stability operations in Iraq, responsible for economic revitalisation and stabilisation efforts in the country.
Before joining the US government, Mr Brinkley held a number of senior executive roles with Silicon Valley technology companies, including JDS Uniphase and Nortel Networks.
He formed Nawah a year ago as a joint venture with Thomas Pritzker, an American businessman who is the chairman and chief executive of the private investment firm the Pritzker Organization, and executive chairman of Hyatt Hotels.
"Iraq is at a crossroads," added Mr Brinkley. "It is now at the point where private enterprise should take the lead and play a transformative role in the country's future. I believe in Iraq's future. And I believe that the opportunities there are significant in a wide range of industries."
The firm will commit capital to build businesses and offer advisory services to help blue-chip corporations access markets in the region.
"We have assembled the human and financial capital that will give us a unique ability to build long-term, profitable enterprises in a country that is in the formative stage of its growth," said Mr Pritzker, who is also Nawah's chairman.
"Iraq, like other countries in the region, has significant underlying demand for infrastructure, goods and services. Peace and prosperity are two sides of the same coin: viable, profitable businesses contribute to the creation of prosperous communities that enhance stability."
The company's management team includes experienced business leaders as well as regional experts, several of whom spent years working in Iraq and Afghanistan under the administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama.