Dispute over new director and overall control

Najaf povincial council pushes for control of international airport

NAJAF — The Najaf Provincial Council is seeking to regain control of the city’s international airport, citing its role in financing and overseeing construction, amid tensions with the federal government’s Civil Aviation Authority.

On April 16, the council dismissed airport director Ali Al-Saadi and appointed Hussein Al-Muhanna as acting director until a permanent replacement is selected. The council called for the return of airport control to the provincial government, issuing a warning to the aviation authority against obstructing decisions by the local government.

Provincial council chairman Hussein Waheed Al-Essawi told Al-Sabah newspaper that discussions with Prime Minister Mohammed Shiaa’ Al-Sudani are planned to resolve the dispute, emphasizing the council’s commitment to “positive relations” with the federal government.

The council maintains ownership of the land and airport facilities, highlighting the 103 billion Iraqi dinars ($79 million) spent from regional development funds on construction. Built under a 2008 investment license, the airport’s full ownership transfer to the Civil Aviation Authority has been blocked by the council.

Council members cite declining performance under outside management, particularly technical issues and rising debt, as a reason to take back control over the facility.

Aqeel Al-Fatlawi, a member of parliament’s Transportation Committee from Najaf and spokesperson for the State of Law Coalition, criticized the aviation authority’s actions, claiming it had created tension with the provincial government.

He argued the authority overstepped its bounds by appointing Al-Saadi as director and disregarding the council’s right to choose a director. “Dr. Hussein Muhanna, who was presented to be the airport director, boasts extensive experience and has been managing administration at Najaf Airport since its inception,” he said.

Al-Fatlawi further criticized the Prime Minister’s office for sending military forces to the airport after the council’s insistence on a takeover timeline.

The dispute highlights ongoing tensions between Najaf and Baghdad over control of the airport. Both sides are expected to continue negotiations to determine the airport’s future management.