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Baghdad holds first trade fair in over six years

BAGHDAD, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Iran and Turkey led commercial interest at Baghdad's first international trade fair in more than six years, at which the presence of 400 foreign firms showed the drop in violence has roused investors' interest.

Iraq's economy has been shattered by years of war, sanctions in the 1990s, inefficient state-run operations under Saddam Hussein, and bombings, conflict and sectarian slaughter since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"Now the security situation has improved (it is possible) to hold these fairs and to receive companies ... This is the start. God willing, it will not be the last," Hashem Mohammed Hatem, head of the fair, told Reuters.

Some 400 companies flocked to the 10-day event. To secure the site, security forces shut down roads, helicopters hovered overhead and guards frisked those wanting to enter. Iran had 60 companies there, Turkey 44, France 40 and Brazil 21.

Shi'ite Muslim Iran has been one of the largest investors in Iraq since the fall of Saddam.

Foreign firms have been reluctant to attend large-scale events in Iraq, where security costs are still high. Most of Iraq's trade fairs have been held in the north, which is generally more stable than the centre and the south.

In another sign of growing confidence in Iraq's economic prospects, French airport operator Aeroports de Paris (ADP) said it had won a contract to work on plans for a new international airport in Iraq, and Iraqi Transport Minister Amer Abdul-Jabbar said the contract was worth about $42.5 million. [nL2349955] (Reporting by Aseel Kami; writing by Jack Kimball; editing by Tim Pearce)

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