Shares of Hill International, the Marlton-based construction-management contractor, jumped more than 50% in morning trading on hopes a contract to house over 1 million Iraqis will more than compensate for the firm's loss of business due to the Libya civil war.

Hill shares rallied to over $6.70 a share, from $4.33 at the opening, after the firm and its HillStone International LLC affiliate said they had been awarded contracts to supply 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot homes, priced at around $50,000, for Iraq's National Investment Commission, which is contracting with hundreds of thousands of Iraqi homeowners - some paying cash, some agreeing to seven-year mortgages, financed by Citibank and guaranteed by the government-supported U.S. Import-Export Bank, Hill chairman Irv Richter told me.

"It's a huge contract for us," Richter said. "It opens the door" for future jobs in that nation. And "we're talking to a lot of companies that need housing - Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Gabon," and Eastern European and Caribbean countries. Richter said Hill was selected because it worked with Stanley Corp. and Pittsburgh-based Michael Baker in previous Iraq construction projects funded by the US government.

Commission chairman Sami Al-Araji, a Michigan State graduate, will address Congress to talk about the project tomorrow, Richter added.

Hill, run by the father-son team of Irv and David Richter, is so dependent on Middle East business that its stock at times serves as a barometer for the investment climate in Arab nations. The Iraq share-price jump nearly erased the decline Hill has suffered since March, when the Libyan civil war stopped work on Hill's university construction contract with the Gaddafi regime.

The deal is for a project near Besmaya, south of Baghdad, the first stage of a housing development that will eventually total 500,000 units, at a cost of $35 billion. The morning share price gain boosted Hill's market value by $100 million, to around $250 million. Richter said there will be opportunities to supply water, sewers, streets and other utilities.

The Iraq deal still depends on TRAC completing financing and "final government approvals," Hill said.  South Korea-based Hyundai Development CO. is to be general contractor, suppliers include Texas-based Nucor Steel and Louvres LED International of Illinois.

The deal will cost Hill money this year as it hires new staff, but will more than double profits next year, analyst William Sutherland of Boenning & Scattergood, West Conshohocken, told clients in a report today - with better prospects if work in Libya resumes, he added.