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Back on track: Railway linking Iran to Syria through Iraq

April 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

Plans to link the railway networks of Iran, Iraq and Syria have been revealed by a source at the Syrian Ministry of Transport.

“Now, the countries are working on the resumption of the project connecting the railways of Syria, Iran and Iraq,” the source told Al-Watan newspaper yesterday.

“[They] are determining the date of the meeting between the representatives of the countries to develop the points of view.”

The strategic project seeks to link Tehran and Baghdad to the ports in Syria’s north-western city of Latakia. Before the war, 97 per cent of construction of the project on the Syrian side was complete but, large tracts of the railways were bombed during the eight-year conflict.

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“The railway is to facilitate better trade links, making it easier to get across quite a large terrain,” said  Simon Mabon, director of SEPAD, a collaborative project aimed at understanding proxy conflicts. “They’re able to save themselves logistical heartache with the Strait of Hormuz and the Indian Ocean which is a win for Tehran.”

Syria announced earlier this month its intention to lease the port of Latakia to Iran from October. It did so in response to an official request from Tehran to Damascus in February 2018.

Since the start of the conflict, Iran has loaned Damascus $6.6 billion with an additional $1 billion offered in 2017.

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Opponents of Iran have spoken of fears of the construction of the land “corridor” from Tehran, through Iraq and Syria, to Hezbollah in Lebanon. They fear the railway route would facilitate the transport of high quality weapons, Revolutionary Guards and Shia soldiers to intervene in regional conflicts.

“The idea of the corridor says a lot about how other states in the region are viewing Iran,” said Mabon. “Traditionally, it was the Shia crescent which evolved into this notion of a land corridor, showing the fear of Iran holding territory in these traditionally Arab, traditionally Sunni lands.”

“Iran serves an important domestic purpose for these countries,” he said. “Netanyahu has just been elected on an incredibly hawkish foreign policy; the Saudis use Iran to justify the treatment of their own Shias and the Emirati involvement in the war in Yemen was framed as an attempt to stop Iran.”