- Title: IRAQ: Business is booming as more pilgrims visit Iraq's Najaf
- Date: 11th January 2009
- Summary: CARS TRAVELLING IN STREET CARS DRIVING NEAR GRAVE OF SHI'ITE CLERIC MOHAMMED BAQIR AL-HAKIM, WHO WAS ASSASSINATED IN 2003
- Embargoed: 26th January 2009 12:00
- Location: Iraq
- Country: Iraq
- Topics: Religion
- Reuters ID: LVAARXJOPRWO1TVSTZF81SPIC5GH
- Story Text: Iraq's holy city of Najaf sees an investment and construction boom as more pilgrims visit the city's shrine and graveyard and security in the country continues to improve.
The Shi'ite holy city of Najaf is undergoing a make-over from it's traditionally old, crammed streets surrounding one of the most revered shrines in Islam as a result of a construction boom helped by renewed investor confidence.
Across the city, new hotels, flats and shops are being built to accommodate the growing number of religious tourists and visitors to the holy shrine and cemetery in the city, which is one of the world's largest burial spots because Shi'ites prefer to be buried near Imam Ali -- Prophet Mohammad's son-in-law.
A new international airport for the city which opened in the summer also hopes to improve transport links and has dramatically increase demand for hotels.
Construction worker Ridha said labourers like himself are kept busy as many projects are in the development stage.
"There is noticeable activity concerning construction, the governorate is undergoing new projects and maintenance. The activity is better now than it was under the previous situation and the previous regime, the city of Najaf is witnessing a lot of activity in construction," he said.
The relative calm that Iraq has seen since late 2007 has encouraged businessmen to invest and pilgrims to visit.
Another holy Shi'ite city, Kerbala, an hour's drive north of Najaf, saw substantial development in recent years and Najaf seeks to emulate and exceed the changes in Kerbala, where Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas are buried in large shrines.
Fadhel Fadhel, the head of the Investment Commission in the city, said the city needed to absorb the growing demand.
"As you know, Najaf is a religious city and has 8 million visitors annually according to official statistics by the civilian administration in the province. We believe that after the airport is open, this figure will double and that's why Najaf needs new hotels, shopping centres, entertainment and parks that can accommodate that number of visitors," he said.
"The plan is for national investment as we believe it's the most important form of investment because we want to return money which Iraqis have sent outside of the country. Their money will remain here and it will back the Iraqi Dinar and the national economy," he added.
The commission has issued licences for numerous projects worth 40 billion U.S. Dollars.
Iraq looks to holy cities like Najaf to generate a significant amount of income to the economy as it tries to lessen its excessive dependence on crude oil exports.
Baghdad is desperate for investment to repair the country's ageing infrastructure and provide much-needed jobs to help stabilise the country after years of deadly violence and political bickering.
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