Iraq unveils $17 billion rail project to connect Asia and Europe

A handout picture released by Iraq´s Prime Minister´s Media Office shows Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani attending a meeting with transport ministry representatives in Baghdad on May 27, 2023. Iraq presented an ambitious plan to turn itself into a regional transportation hub by developing its road and rail infrastructure, linking Europe with the Gulf and other Middle East countries.—AFP 

In a bid to reinvigorate its economy after years of war and crisis, Iraq has launched a groundbreaking $17 billion project. 

The initiative aims to establish a comprehensive road and rail network connecting a significant commodities port on Iraq’s southern coast to the Turkish border. Known as the Development Road, this ambitious undertaking seeks to position Iraq as a pivotal transit hub, rivalling the Suez Canal by shortening travel time between Asia and Europe.

The Director General of the General Company for Ports of Iraq, Farhan al-Fartousi, emphasized the transformative potential of the Development Road. He stated that the project is not merely intended for the movement of goods and passengers; instead, it holds the key to unlocking development in vast areas of Iraq. 

The envisioned scope of the initiative includes high-speed trains capable of transporting goods and passengers at speeds of up to 300 kilometres (186.41 miles) per hour, integrated links to local industry hubs, and an energy component that could involve the establishment of oil and gas pipelines.

This project represents a significant departure from Iraq’s current outdated transportation network. Presently, the country’s train service operates a limited number of lines, primarily serving slow oil freight and a single overnight passenger train that travels from Baghdad to Basra, a journey that takes approximately 10 to 12 hours to cover a distance of 500 kilometres.

The Grand Faw Port, which has been in development for over a decade, is now halfway to completion, according to Fartousi. In addition to its strategic economic significance, the Development Road also holds the potential for revitalizing historical passenger transport routes between Iraq and Europe. 

Fartousi expressed plans to reactivate these routes, connecting them with other countries. The initiative envisions facilitating the transportation of tourists and pilgrims to Shiite holy sites in Iraq and the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Haj pilgrimage.

The project was announced during a conference aimed at attracting Arab interest, including investment from Arab Gulf states, Syria, and Jordan. Officials stressed the government’s commitment to developing infrastructure and rebuilding roads and bridges, highlighting the relative stability that has been maintained since late last year. If construction commences early next year, the Development Road is expected to be completed by 2029.

Despite the challenges Iraq has faced, Fartousi expressed optimism about the future. He stated that even if Iraq has been absent from the global stage for a period of time, it is destined to return. He hopes that the initiation of the Development Road marks the beginning of Iraq’s resurgence as a significant player in the region’s economy.

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