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

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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 Gulf and other Middle East countries.

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

Iraqi 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 and the United Arab Emirates.

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“We see this project as a pillar of a sustainable non-oil economy, a link that serves Iraq’s neighbors 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 that the project could be completed in “three to five years.”

War-ravaged and beset by rampant corruption, oil-rich Iraq suffers from dilapidated infrastructure. Its roads are in terrible condition and those connecting the capital Baghdad to the north cross areas where ISIS remnants continue to carry out sporadic attacks.

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

Developing the road and rail corridor would allow Iraq to capitalize 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 container ships will unload before embarking on the new road and rail links.

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

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