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Iran, Iraq move closer to construct cross-border railway

TOPSHOT - A boy sits on the window of a locomotive in the city of Nasiriyah in Iraq's southern Dhi Qar province on April 3, 2021. (Photo by Asaad NIAZI / AFP) (Photo by ASAAD NIAZI/AFP via Getty Images)
A boy sits on the window of a locomotive in the city of Nasiriyah in Iraq's southern Dhi Qar province on April 3, 2021. [ASAAD NIAZI/AFP via Getty Images]

Iran and Iraq are to commence construction of a cross-border railway after reportedly signing an agreement on Monday, according to Tehran Times. The 30 kilometre Shalamcheh-Basra railway has been in the pipeline for many years and would be the only rail connection between the two countries. Despite years of set-backs, the project entered an advanced phase last year.

The agreement was signed between the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways and Iraqi Republic Railways and took place during a visit to Baghdad by Iran's Transport and Urban Development Minister, Rostam Qasemi.

"For almost 20 years, we have had numerous negotiations with the Iraqi side to implement the Shalamcheh-Basra railway, and many memorandums were signed in different periods, which never reached the desired result," Qasemi said.

"We agreed to start the primary study and implementation of this project within the next month, which is practically a big step for Iran and Iraq to expand trade, and increase freight and passenger exchanges, which is important for both countries," he added.

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Funding for the project was approved by the Iraqi cabinet in April and will be financed by Iran's Mostazafan Foundation, a semi-government charity.

However, Iraq's Minister of Transport, Nasser Al-Shibli, yesterday denied that the two countries signed such an agreement.

"The minutes of a meeting were signed with the Iranian side regarding the railway connection, which is not an agreement," said Al-Shibli in a statement to Al-Iraqiya News and reported by the Iraqi News Agency (INA).

He made the comments while also announcing the signing of a separate agreement with an Italian company to develop new designs for a planned rail line connecting Al-Faw Port in the south to the Iraq-Turkey borders.

The Shalamcheh-Basra railway is seen as a wider project aimed at connecting China's Belt and Road Initiative with Iraq and Iran, in addition to establishing a channel with Syria.

Following an announcement by Tehran in 2018 that the project was to commence, Al-Monitor reported in 2018 that "The railway is part of Syria's reconstruction deal … promoting religious tourism among Iran, Iraq and Syria. Syrian opposition parties, however, have rejected the railway, believing it will entrench Iranian influence and help provide the logistic services necessary for its presence in Iraq and Syria."

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