Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi inaugurated on Sunday the next phase of an ongoing megaproject to build a new port in the south of the country.
The repeatedly delayed Grand Port of Al Faw, which was first announced as a government project in 2010, is one of several projects that Iraq hopes will create a shorter transportation corridor between the Middle East and Europe, bypassing the Suez Canal, through the eventual expansion of a national rail network.
“The Grand Port of Al Faw project is not only for Basra. It is a strategic project that contributes to the development and reconstruction of Iraq,” Mr Al Kadhimi said during the opening ceremony in the southern city of Basra.
The port will make Iraq “an economic bridge linking it to the world,” he said.
“With action, not words, we are moving together towards a better future that Iraq and our great people deserve,” Mr Al Kadhimi said.
In December, Baghdad signed a $2.63 billion contract with South Korea’s Daewoo Engineering and Construction to complete the first phase of the port.
A 2018 Iraq-World Bank document on Iraq's reconstruction said the remainder of the port would cost $6bn, in addition to at least $1bn already spent.
A breakwater, costing around $1bn, has already been completed and is now the longest breakwater in the world.
Daewoo is expected to handle further construction work that includes building five berths to unload ships and a yard for containers.
Daewoo will carry out dredging and drilling works to create an access navigation channel.
The construction of the next phase of the port is expected to be finished within four years.
For the time being, Iraq depends on the port of Umm Qasr in the south of the country, to receive cargo ships, and a smaller port in the city of Basra.
Umm Qasr port is at the top of the strategic Gulf waterway near Basra but has limited capacity.
The port of Al Faw will be deeper, allowing it to receive the largest container ships.
During his visit to Basra Mr Al Kadhimi met with a group of young protesters near the port.
"The prime minister listened to their proposals and asserted their right to demonstrate provided that this does not threaten public or private property," a statement by his office said.
One of the key demands of the anti-government movement in Basra was the building of the Al Faw Grand Port to provide jobs and trade.
It was part of a wider demonstrations that broke out in central and southern Iraq in late 2019.