Iraq unveils $17b road and rail project to link Asia and Europe - GulfToday

Iraq unveils $17b road and rail project to link Asia and Europe


Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani attending a meeting with transport ministry representatives in Baghdad on Saturday. Agence France-Presse

Iraq on Saturday presented an ambitious plan to turn itself into a regional transportation hub by developing its road and rail infrastructure, linking Europe with the Middle East.

Once completed, the $17 billion project known as the “Route of Development” would span the length of the country, stretching 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) from the northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south.

Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani announced the project during a conference with transport ministry representatives from Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

“We see this project as a pillar of a sustainable non-oil economy, a link that serves Iraq’s neighbours and the region, and a contribution to economic integration efforts,” Sudani said.

While further discussions are required, any country that wishes “will be able to carry out part of the project”, the Iraqi parliament’s transport committee said, adding the project could be completed in “three to five years”.

“The Route of Development will boost interdependence between the countries of the region,” Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad Ali Riza Guney said, without elaborating on what role his country would play in the project.

Sudani has prioritised the reconstruction of the country’s road network, along with upgrading its failing electricity infrastructure.

Lack of ‘fluidity’: Developing the road and rail corridor would allow Iraq to capitalise on its geographical position, with the aim of making the country a transportation hub for goods and people moving between the Gulf, Turkey and Europe.

Work has already started to increase capacity at the commercial port of Al-Faw, on the shores of the Gulf, where cargo is to be unloaded before it embarks on the new road and rail links.

The project also includes the construction of around 15 train stations along the route, including in the major cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and up to the Turkish border.

The Gulf, largely bordered by Iran and Saudi Arabia, is a major shipping zone, especially for the transportation of hydrocarbons extracted by countries of the region.

Zyad al-Hashemi, an Iraqi consultant on international transport, cast doubt on the plan to develop the country into a transportation hub, saying it lacks “fluidity”.

“Customers prefer to transport their goods directly from Asia to Europe, without going through a loading and unloading process,” that would see containers moved between ships and road or rail, he said.

Transport is a key sector in the global economy and Iraq’s announcement is the latest in other planned international mega-projects, including China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” announced in 2013 by its President Xi Jinping.

The planned works in that project would see 130 countries across Asia, Europe and Africa connected through land and sea infrastructure providing greater access to China.

Officials said in March that the project comprises a dual rail line for freight and passenger trains and a 1,190-km motorway for cargo trucks.

The freight train will have an initial capacity of 3.5 million containers and 22 million tonnes of bulk cargo per year, to be raised in phases to 7.5 million containers and 33 million tonnes/year.

The high-speed passenger train has an initial capacity of 13.8 million passengers per year.In April the Iraqi Transport Ministry said that the country has completed a design study for a multi-billion-dollar rail line that will link its Southern part with neighbouring Turkey and Europe.

On last Thursday, Saudi Arabia and Iraq signed agreements to develop a special economic zone and strengthen economic cooperation between the two countries. The agreements were signed during the fifth session of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council in Jeddah.

Both countries agreed to identify economic opportunities to boost bilateral trade and investments in various sectors.

Saudi Commerce Minister Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi said the meeting was an affirmation of the brotherly relations between the two countries and aimed to strengthen the strategic partnership.

Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Dr Mohammad Ali Tamim, who is also the planning minister, said Baghdad wants the joint council to succeed in its missions and achieve its goals.

The ministers praised the growth of trade between the two countries, which reached $1.5 billion in 2022.

Both officials agreed to enhance trade ties by effectively utilizing the newly opened Arar Port and expediting the opening of the Jumaimah border crossing.

A Saudi-Iraqi Economic Forum was also held on the sidelines of the coordination council meeting. The event was attended by more than 300 businessmen from the two countries.

The chairman of the Saudi-Iraqi Business Council, Mohammed Alkhorayef, said the Kingdom aims to raise exports to Iraq to $10 billion over the next five years.


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