Iraq’s prime minister on Saturday announced plans for a $17 billion regional transportation project intended to facilitate the flow of goods from Asia to Europe.
The announcement was made at a one-day conference in Baghdad that convened transport ministers and representatives from Iraq, the Gulf countries, Türkiye, Iran, Syria, and Jordan.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said the planned Development Road project would facilitate the movement of goods from the Gulf to Europe by way of the Grand Faw Port in Basra, in southern Iraq, which would be connected to Türkiye, then to Europe, through a network of railways and highways.
A centerpiece of the project will be the development of the Grand Faw Port and a "smart industrial city" adjacent to it, Sudani said.
The planned project, which would involve the construction of about 1,200 km (about 745 miles) of railways and highways, will be "an economic lifeline and a promising opportunity for the convergence of interests, history, and cultures," said Sudani, adding it will "make our countries a source for modern industries and goods."
Iraq's government envisions high-speed trains moving goods and passengers at up to 300 kilometers (186.41 miles) per hour, links to local industry hubs and an energy component that could include oil and gas pipelines.
It would mark a significant departure from the country's existing aged transport network.
Iraq's train service currently operates a handful of lines, including slow oil freight and a single overnight passenger train that trundles from Baghdad to Basra, taking 10 to 12 hours to cover 500 kilometers.
"The Development Road is not just a road to move goods or passengers. This road opens the door to development of vast areas of Iraq," Farhan al-Fartousi, director general of the General Company for Ports of Iraq, told Reuters.
The Grand Faw Port, which was devised over a decade ago, is halfway to completion, he said.
Passenger transport between Iraq and Europe harkens back to grand plans at the turn of the 20th century to create a Baghdad to Berlin express.
"We will make this line active again and tie it to other countries," Fartousi added.
If work starts early next year, the project would be completed in 2029, Fartousi revealed.
"Even if Iraq was absent for a year or two or a decade or two, it must return one day or another. Hopefully these days are the beginning of the return of Iraq," he stressed.
The countries participating in Saturday's conference agreed to establish joint technical committees to move the project forward.