Charting New Paths: Iraq and Iran’s Railway Link Project
In a significant development on the geopolitical front, Iraq has initiated plans to build its first railway link with Iran. The project, expected to be completed within the next 18 months, is primarily aimed at easing the transportation challenges faced by millions of pilgrims who visit the Shi’ite Muslim shrines in Iraq annually. The proposed railway link is set to cover a distance of approximately 30 kilometers between the southern Iraqi city of Basra and the Iranian border-town of Shalamja. The rail project symbolizes the growing ties between the two nations since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which led to an increase in the influence of pro-Tehran Shi’ite Muslim parties in Baghdad.
Timelines and Expectations
According to Nasser Al-Asadi, the transport advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, the project’s completion is expected within the proposed timeline due to the short distance it covers. In addition to the cross-border railway, the government also plans a metro link between Karbala and Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shi’ite clergy.
The relationship between Iraq and Iran has come a long way since the devastating eight-year war in the 1980s, during which the border area was heavily mined. Post the U.S. invasion in 2003, which led to the overthrow of former leader Saddam Hussein, Shi’ite Muslim parties with close connections to Tehran have become key political players in Baghdad. This has further led to an increase in economic and religious ties between the two nations.
The Arbaeen pilgrimage in Iraq’s holy city of Karbala, the world’s largest annual religious gathering, sees up to 20 million mostly Shi’ite Muslims participate. Many pilgrims undertake a journey of hundreds of kilometers from the Iran-Iraq border to Karbala. The proposed rail link will not only reduce the risk of accidents during the pilgrimage but also provide a new source of revenue for Iraq through ticket sales.
A Broad Vision for Infrastructure Development
The railway project is merely one component of a broader transport sector development plan by the Iraqi government. Included in these plans are the revamp of Baghdad’s international airport and a 1,200-kilometer rail, road, and services project from a major commodities port in the south to its border with Turkey. These initiatives reflect Iraq’s commitment to strengthening its infrastructure and boosting economic development.
The Iraq-Iran railway link project stands as a testament to the strengthening ties between two nations that have a history marred by conflict. It is a step towards not just facilitating religious tourism but also enhancing economic cooperation. The project’s successful completion will indeed mark a significant milestone in the history of Iraq-Iran relations.
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