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Iraq to beautify deadly ‘route Irish’ airport road

Baghdad to host the 2011 Arab Summit

Long known as the globe's most dangerous highway, Baghdad authorities are now aiming to turn the Iraqi capital's airport road into "the most beautiful street in the world".

Known within the U.S. military as "Route Irish" and grimly dubbed "RPG (rocket propelled grenade) alley", those using the road were subject to daily attacks from insurgents during the peak of Iraq's sectarian war in 2006 and 2007.

The pothole-littered highway was lined on both sides with blast walls, with burning cars a frequent sight, as Sunni Arab fighters who formed the bedrock of an anti-U.S. insurgency after the 2003 invasion would routinely fire rockets and missiles onto its users.

But in a statement on Sunday, the capital's mayor announced he wanted to beautify it by the time Baghdad hosts an upcoming Arab League summit in March next year.

"More than 23 international companies from seven countries... will start at the end of this month to develop a large number of streets and places in Baghdad," Saber al-Essawi said.

"Included in those is Baghdad International Airport street, which extends from Baghdad airport to the Green Zone, at a cost of $200 million, to transform it into the most beautiful street in the world."

There are now few security incidents along the heavily protected highway, whose three lanes have routinely flouted speed limits of 60, 80 and 100 kilometers per hour (about 40, 50 and 60 miles per hour).

The redevelopment plan outlined by Essawi encompasses 50 streets and sites in Baghdad with an overall cost of 500 billion Iraqi dinars ($425 million).

It is part of plans to spruce up Baghdad ahead of the summit -- the country announced in August it would spend 300 million dollars to upgrade six major hotels in the capital, with renovations now already underway.

Iraq has not held a regular Arab summit since November 1978, although it did host an extraordinary session in Baghdad in May 1990.