A railway linking the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra and the Iranian border town of Shalamcheh, in addition to completing logistics between Iran, Iraq and Syria as Axis members of the Resistance, is poised to facilitate exports to Iraq and widen the pilgrimage between the two countries, economists say.
When Iran’s Roads and Urban Development Minister Rostam Qassemi visited Baghdad last month, one of the most important topics of discussion was linking the two countries through the suspended Shalamcheh-Basra railway. For more than 20 years.
“For almost 20 years,” Qassemi said, “we had many negotiations with Iraq for the implementation of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway, and there were even many agreements at different times, which never achieved the desired result”.
Thus, a memorandum of understanding signed on December 26 during his four-day visit included a roadmap and timetable for the construction of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway and a border bridge over the Arvand River.
According to the agreement, the project will be implemented by the railway companies of both parties and the work will start within two months.
“We did not expect the formation of a joint venture within the next two months, and instead agreed that within the next month we would be virtually stationed next to the bridge and begin executive operations, studies and commissioning. implementation of the project. It is a great event between Iran and Iraq for trade, cargo and passenger exchanges, which is important for both countries,” he said.
Following the recent agreement, the Shalamcheh-Basra rail link will be completed in two years, according to the Iranian minister.
Qassemi said that although the initial deal is a 50-50 joint venture, Iran will take a bigger stake if the Iraqi side agrees. The rail link, he said, is very important for Iran and Iraq both in terms of transit and passenger movement, especially in the Arbaʽeen when millions of pilgrims travel to Iraq. , and relations between the two countries.
When completed, it will create an east-west rail transit corridor to the Mediterranean Sea, linking the Iranian port of Khorramshahr to Latakia in Syria via Basra in Iraq.
In 2015, Iran launched a railway extension from Khorramshahr to Shalamcheh. Only a 32 km track remains which will connect Shalamcheh to the Iraqi port.
However, it requires the construction of a 900 meter bridge over the southern end of the Arvand River which forms the Iran-Iraq border to its mouth, where it empties into the Persian Gulf.
“The recent agreement signed with Iraq is different from all previous agreements, because it has a specific timetable. There is an obligation for the parties to adhere to it so that the executive operation can start properly,” said the Deputy Minister of Transport and Urban Development, Abbas Khatibi. noted.
Under the agreement, Iranian and Iraqi companies will jointly study and implement the Shalamcheh-Basra railway.
“There had been no such details and timelines in previous agreements with the Iraqis, which shows the determination of both parties,” Khatibi said.
“Despite the agreements reached in previous years, it has not been possible for the Iranian investor to work in Iraq according to a specific schedule. We hope that with the signing of this contract, the main node of the Basra- Shalamcheh will be open and we will be able to complete this important railway project within the announced period.”
The project is essential to rationalize exchanges between Iran, Iraq and Syria. It has the potential to revolutionize economic relations between the three countries in their emerging post-war alliance.
Iraq became Iran’s most important trading partner after the overthrow of former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, and since then it has increased the volume of annual trade that the two countries seek to take to 20 billions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Iran and Syria are strategic partners and plan a full expansion of economic relations following their fierce battle against foreign-backed takfiri terrorism in the Arab country.
On Saturday, the chairman of the Iran-Syria Joint Chamber of Commerce reportedly said Iran’s exports to Syria had increased by 90% in the nine months since March 2021 year on year.
The launch of the Shalamcheh-Basra rail link is expected to boost trade with Iraq and Syria.
However, the reluctance of Iranian authorities in previous administrations on the one hand and the obstruction of the project by Iraqi officials on the other reinforce the suspicion that third parties, notably the United States, are working to prevent its realization.
It went until the Iraqi side repeatedly delayed the equipment and commissioning of the workshop, as well as the construction process under various pretexts. The Iraqis have sometimes used the issue of the dredging of the Arvand River and the demarcation of the border between the two countries as an excuse for not cooperating, and recently postponed the construction of the railway under the pretext of connecting the Iraqi port of Faw in Istanbul, Turkey.
Despite strong Iranian interest in completing the corridor, some Iraqi officials have said the project could sideline Faw.
Iraqi Transport Minister Nasser al-Shibli seemed to echo these concerns when he was quick to point out after signing the recent document with Qassemi that it was not a deal, but a a ‘meeting report’ of the ministers’ talks.
“We have reached an agreement with the people of Iraq that no railway connection project with neighboring countries will be implemented before the completion of the Faw port project and the completion of the country’s railway infrastructure to connect with neighboring countries,” he told al-Iraqiyah news. network.
However, economists say these concerns are misplaced and that the construction of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway is impossible to undermine and conflicts with the Iraq-Turkey connection.
Iran is currently linked with many countries, such as Russia, Turkey and recently with Pakistan. The construction of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway will connect Iraq not only with Iran, but also with Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Far East.
Moreover, it can potentially make Iraq the transit route for goods between the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia and Russia.
According to Mohammad Javad Shahjoui, an economist, the construction of the Basra-Istanbul railway would take many years.
Apart from this, the small port of Faw at the mouth of the Persian Gulf would not have enough capacity to accept all the goods arriving in Iraq.
“Therefore, the construction of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway not only does not come at the expense of Iraq, but it can generally be said that Iraq needs the construction of this railway link more than Iran” , he added.
According to the economist, what prompted Iraq to block the construction of the railway has no economic justification.
“The problem is completely political and linked to the American intervention, which considers the construction of this railway as detrimental to its equations hostile to Iran and to the formation of an axis of resistance,” he added. .
Shahjoui said the rail link should benefit both Iran and Iraq and turn them into close allies
“My suggestion is that the Iranian officials set a deadline for the Iraqi side, and through active regional diplomacy, they demand the completion of this railway line as soon as possible, which would serve the interests of both country.”