Iraq Plans Railway Link to Iran to Facilitate Pilgrimage and Boost Ties
Iraq is set to complete its inaugural railway connection with neighboring Iran in the next 18 months, marking a significant step in enhancing transport infrastructure between the two nations. This rail link, spanning approximately 30 kilometers (18.64 miles), will run from the southern Iraqi city of Basra to the Iranian border-town of Shalamja. The primary purpose of this endeavor is to ease the transportation of millions of Shiite Muslim pilgrims who visit shrines in Iraq annually, particularly during the 'Arbaeen' pilgrimage to Karbala.
Nasser Al-Asadi, a transport advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, stated, "We should see the trains moving in about 18 months because it's a small distance." This development comes as Iraq seeks to further deepen its ties with Iran, particularly following the 2003 US invasion, which led to an increase in influence by pro-Tehran Shiite Muslim parties in Baghdad.
Additionally, the Iraqi government has ambitious plans to construct a metro link connecting Karbala and Najaf, both significant centers of Shiite religious leadership. This railway project is expected to not only improve pilgrimage transportation but also bolster economic cooperation between the two nations.
Although Iraq and Iran endured a devastating eight-year war in the 1980s, much of which affected the border region, their relationship has evolved significantly since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Shiite Muslim parties with close ties to Tehran have become influential political players in Baghdad, fostering stronger economic and religious bonds between the two nations.
Before ground work on the rail link can commence, efforts are underway to clear the area, particularly in regions heavily mined during past conflicts. This infrastructure development aims to reduce the risk of accidents that frequently occur during the pilgrimage when many pilgrims walk long distances or travel in overcrowded vehicles from the Iran-Iraq border to Karbala. The new railway will also provide Iraq with a source of revenue from ticket sales.
These transportation projects are part of a broader government initiative to revamp the country's transport sector. Other initiatives include the overhaul of Baghdad's international airport and a massive 1,200-kilometer (745.65-mile) rail, road, and services project that will connect a major commodities port in southern Iraq to its border with Turkey. These endeavors collectively signal Iraq's commitment to modernizing its infrastructure and strengthening its ties with neighboring countries.