The airport was built in the 1960s and then developed in the 1980s by the Iraqi Government department State Organisation for Roads and Bridges (SORB) as a gateway to the only port in Iraq. This second phase of development was completed by a joint venture comprising Strabag Bau AG of Cologne, Billfinger & Berger of Manheim both in Germany and Universale of Austria in Spring 1988. It is claimed that the airport was built only as a facility for VIPs and was only used rarely.
Renovation of the airport was supposed to proceed with the construction of a new terminal under German contract but the project prematurely ceased with the outbreak of the 1991 Gulf War. Actual development proceeded in the airport only after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some facilities were refurbished under a contract by United States Agency for International Development. The project is broad as it includes building air traffic control towers and other navigational facilities, as well as the construction of transportation and communications facilities.
The airport was eventually re-opened in June 2005. The event was marked by the traditional sheep sacrifice as an Iraqi Airways Boeing 727 jet landed from Baghdad. It was the beginning of a new domestic service in Iraq between Baghdad and Basrah. However, many of the passengers complained about the lack of basic facilities. Problems included air conditioning and toilets.