March 1st, 2012
03:33 PM GMT
Umm Qasr, Iraq (CNN) – A former U.S. military detention facility in Iraq could play a major role in making the city of Basra a link for commerce between Asia and Europe.
Basra is Iraq's second largest city, and the main town in the oil rich South. Oppressed and neglected for years under the rule of Saddam Hussein, it could now be set for a revival.
Camp Bucca was once a U.S. military detention facility. Now the Kufan group - an Iraqi-owned development company - wants to turn it into massive a logistics hub called Basra Logistics City.
Rami Faraj, who is working on the development, told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen: "It will be a connection hub to connect Europe to the Far East.
“The stuff or the goods come from Europe through Iraq and Umm Qasr and to the Gulf and the Far East and vice versa. It comes back from China and Japan. It will save time and money for the trading companies."
Basra Logistics City will cover about 740 acres of land, the group says. It will include huge warehouses, a state-of-the-art container terminal, truck parking, food processing facilities, shops and high-end hotels.
Camp Bucca was used as a U.S. military detention facility starting in 2003. Tens of thousands of detainees, captured during America's presence in Iraq, went through here. At its peak, Camp Bucca could hold around 20,000 prisoners at any given time.
Detainee operations stopped at the end of 2009 and the facility was later handed over to the Iraqi government and purchased at auction by the Kufan group.
The Americans left world-class infrastructure that will make it easier to begin large-scale commercial operations here. The perimeter is nearly impossible to breach making it a relatively safe place for workers.
A modern water-treatment plant can easily serve tens of thousands of people. It currently supplies most of the fresh water to the nearby town of Umm Qasr, with 45,000 residents.
Kufan is investing $240 million in the first construction phase. It hopes to attract companies working in the oil sector, and also logistics firms using South Iraq as a staging area.
One major selling point is the proximity to Umm Qasr - Iraq's only deep-water port.
The port's facilities are mostly from the 1970s and 80s, antiquated and in need of repairs. But traffic has consistently increased for the past five years, creating a bottlneck of ships waiting to be off-loaded.
The Iraqi government has accelerated modernization efforts to upgrade Umm Qasr to relieve the delays, bringing consumer goods and oil extraction hardware into the country.
Basra Logistics City could become the main staging and transit area for products going through Umm Qasr, fueling employment and economic growth in an area of Iraq the government believes has gigantic economic potential.
"The standard of living of Iraqis is much lower than what it should be, compared to the Gulf countries, Gulf oil countries,” said Hussein al Sharistani, deputy prime minister for oil affairs. “There is no reason why Iraq should (not) be living at that standard. And I think in the coming five to 10 years you will see a completely different Iraq."
The Kufan group hopes that international companies will use the facility to train Iraqi oil workers and house their staff in some of the yet-to-be-built hotels.
While that may still be years off, the group says the first companies will move their staff into the facilities soon.
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