Railway between Iran and Iraq – a new stage of regional integration
The railway connection will allow pilgrims from Iran to visit places sacred to them in the provinces of Najaf and Karbala, said the head of the Iraqi government. For his part, the representative of Iran expressed confidence that the railway would change West Asia, intensify trade exchanges between the two countries, and connect their respective railway systems synchronised with international transport routes.
The agreement on constructing the railway connecting the two countries was signed in 2021. The negotiations were held for four years. The construction of a 32 km stretch of land, which includes three stations and a bridge connecting Iran with Iraq via Shatt al-Arab, is planned to be completed with the support of Iran in a year and a half.
The project was first announced in 1978. It was a year before the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Shortly after, a bloody war lasted eight years and killed millions.
In 1990, countries thawed diplomatic relations. In 2005, relations between countries gradually improved. Tehran assisted Baghdad in countering the forces of international terrorism.
According to the Director of Information of the Ministry of Transport of Iraq, Maitam al-Safi, “the railway line will ultimately connect the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala”. It is simplifying the movement of pilgrims visiting shrines in Iraq. Every year, about 3 million Iranians make pilgrimages to Shiite shrines in Iraq. At the same time, 2 to 3 million Iraqis visit Iran’s health resorts, etc. This flow will increase even more.
Reducing transit costs
Completing the Shalamche Railway project – Basra promises to significantly increase trade by reducing transit costs by up to 20%. It should help Iraq compensate for the severe business imbalance with a neighbouring country. In 2018, Iran exported goods worth about $ 9 billion to Iraq. Exports in the opposite direction amounted to only $ 58 million.
In a broader context, Iran’s strategic goal – is to become a key regional transit hub due to the country’s favourable geographical location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe.
Iran is located on the lines of the central Eurasian railway routes: East–West and the International Transport Corridor North–South. The first connects the ASEAN countries and China with European markets, while the second is designed to connect Russia with India through Iran.
The Shalamche railway project – Basra is essential for the transit route. Through Mesopotamia, Iran can go out to the Syrian port of Latakia and its transit facilities. The railway from Iran to Iraq can be continued to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia is studying rail connections with Iran through Kuwait and Basra. It will open the way to direct land communication between Iran and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Iraq, in turn, will gain direct access to markets in Central Asian countries, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Rail freight volumes may increase by more than three times. Integration of this route with significant capacities of the Iranian ports of Khorramshahr and Imam Khomeini will bring their annual cargo turnover of up to 500 million tons.