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Iraq opens airport aimed at tourism

Jul 20, 2008

A new airport has been opened in Najaf, Iraq's Shiite holy city, with Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, making the inaugural flight.

Al-Hamza airport, formerly a military airport, was opened on Sunday amid hopes of a religious tourism boom in the city.

Maliki said: "It is a historic moment. It is a moment that symbolises equality among all Iraqis."

He hoped that the opening would assist in the reconstruction of Iraq and that provinces in the rest of the country would follow the lead.

"There must be competition among other provinces when it comes to rebuilding their regions," he said.

The shrine of Iman Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, is in the southern city, and other religious sites are nearby.

Developers say that 9 million pilgrims visit the locations each year.

Planners hope that the new airport will increase the number of visitors by 10 per cent annually.

Al-Aqeelah, a Kuwaiti investment firm, has led the multi-billion dollar project. The firm also plans to build thousands of new homes and hotels in Najaf.

Kuwait has a large Shia minority.

Maliki and other government politicians are attempting to promote investment in the country.

Violence in Iraq is at a four-year low following the US-led invasion of the county in 2003.

The UN said that foreign direct investment in Iraq was $272 million in 2006.

Iraq opens airport aimed at tourism
Al-Maliki said that he hoped other provinces would open new airports / AFP

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