BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Worried about bombs and suicide attacks? Iraq has the solution for businessmen who want to invest but fear venturing into Baghdad's dangerous streets -- work and live in a mini-city right next to the airport.
The major oil exporter has been struggling to attract much-needed investment to develop its infrastructure after years of militant bloodshed, under-investment and sanctions as many firms wait for security to improve.
Overall violence has dropped significantly in Iraq since the height of sectarian warfare in 2006-07. But bombings and shootings are still occur regularly in Baghdad and elsewhere.
While Iraq has signed eleven deals with global oil companies to develop its richest fields, projects outside the energy sector have rarely gone beyond aspirations. Lingering violence and political uncertainty, four months after an inconclusive election, are keeping most western investors on the sidelines.
To persuade more investors to come, an Iraqi firm is planning to build a "village of businesses" next to Baghdad airport, a 30-minute drive from the city center, according to Shaker al-Zamili, head of the Baghdad Investment Commission.
The mini-city will offer all amenities for businessmen to strike deals, showcase their products and chill out at night -- offices, hotels and apartments, banks, 119 shops, a petrol station, a car rental agency and even duty-free shops. And there will be restaurants, internet cafes and parks.
The area, scheduled for completion in 3-5 years for $250 million, will also house offices of state investment commissions and branches of most government ministries to help investors.
"When a company comes to Iraq, instead of wandering, it could stay and deal with officials and get any information, any details it wants while staying there," Zamili said on Wednesday.
Companies also could rent places for displaying products and services, he added.
Of those brave enough to invest in Iraq despite violence so far, Iranian, Turkish and Gulf companies lead the pack, especially in Shi'ite tourism, housing and banking.
The United Arab Emirates is the biggest investor in large projects, with total pledges of $37.7 billion, while Lebanon tops the list of investment deals below $1 billion, according to a report last year by Dunia Frontier Consultants.
Editing by Ulf Laessing and Mark Heinrich