By Suadad al-Salhy
BAGHDAD, March 7 (Reuters) - Iraq plans to float a tender for building a multibillion-dollar port south of Basra by the end of this year, its transportation minister said on Monday.
Iraq is in talks with investors from Australia, France, Germany, Italy and the UAE to help finance the project, known as Grand Faw port, which will be built on the Gulf south of the oil hub of Basra, Hadi al-Amiri said.
"There are many mechanisms to (fund) the project, maybe through (foreign) investment, or soft loans ... from the government," he said after a presentation of the project's designs made by Technital, an Italian company that won the design contract.
Constructing a new port is part of a drive to modernise public infrastructure and kick-start Iraq's economy now that major new oil contracts have been signed.
According to Iraq's plan, goods unloaded at the new port would then be loaded onto a new railway system and reach Europe overland more quickly than ships might reach Egypt's Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
"God willing, the first stage of the project will be finish at the end of 2013," Amiri said.
Iraqi officials also said last March that they would be seeking bids for the project soon.
The project will be built in two stages and is expected to take about four years to complete. It will include 7,000 metres (23,000 feet) of dock to receive container ships. The dock for general cargo would be 3,500 metres (11,500 feet).
The commercial port will also include two docks for unloading oil products.
Alberto Scotti, president of Technital, put the estimated cost of the project at around 4.5 billion Euros ($6.31 billion).
Separately, Amiri said a tender to build an airport in the Middle Euphrates region is expected to be floated in October, but could not give an estimated cost for the project, which will be located between the holy Shi'ite southern cities of Najaf and Kerbala.
* Port to include dock space for containers, general cargo
Iraq plans to tender Faw port by year end-minister - Source
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