Iraq's Development Road project is opening up promising prospects that will help the country achieve a sustainable economic renaissance based on the diversification of revenue sources, officials said.
The Iraqi government is taking steps to promote this strategic project at the regional level and secure buy-in, after completing feasibility studies and outlining the stages and scope of the work, they said.
Government ministers and officials from Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) member states and other countries in the region gathered in Baghdad on May 27 to discuss how to bring the vision for the project to maturity.
The project consists of a land road and a 1,200km railway line running parallel to it, which would serve as a regional transport hub linking Europe and the Gulf.
The route begins at al-Faw port in southern Iraq, and extends through Baghdad to the Faysh Khabur border crossing in the north, the last Iraqi point on the border triangle with Turkey and Syria.
The project is not just a road and a railway but also an integrated infrastructure that supports the transport sector and various other sectors of the economy, such as the agricultural, industrial and tourism sectors, officials said.
Regional economic integration
"The Development Road is a strategic project that puts Iraq on the cusp of a new phase" by boosting travel and trade between East and West, Iraqi transport minister Razzaq Muhaibis al-Saadawi told Al-Mashareq.
"It also is a fundamental pillar towards achieving partnership and regional economic integration," he said, noting that it has the potential to achieve massive economic and development gains for Iraq and the region.
The project aims to provide travel services for more than 15 million passengers each year, and to transport an annual 3.5 million containers of cargo (22 million tonnes).
High-speed trains will run on the railway line, with a maximum speed of 300km per hour for passenger transport and about 150km per hour for the transportation of goods.
This will reduce the time of cross country travel as well as the cost to transport commercial freight.
The route will traverse 13 provinces, and 15 stations will be built along it.
The project is expected to cost a total of $17 billion, $10.5 billion of which will go to financing the construction of the railway line and purchase of electric trains, and $6.5 billion for the construction of the road and service facilities.
When completed, it will generate anticipated annual revenues of $4.85 billion.
The project will be completed in three time-phases, and is expected to be operational in 2028.
"By that date, Iraq would have become a major hub for trade," al-Saadawi said.
"This project also integrates with the stages of construction of the Grand al-Faw Port, where construction activities, such as the construction of the berths, the navigational canal, and submerged tunnel are at advanced stages," he said.
Providing 100,000 jobs
The project is "a new approach that enhances diversity in the country's sources of revenue", said Nasser Saleh al-Asadi, adviser to the Iraqi prime minister for transport affairs.
"It supports the national economy as well as the economies of the countries of the region, which will go a long way towards the achievement of regional development and stability," he told Al-Mashareq.
"During the recent Development Road conference, Iraq's neighbours expressed their interest and desire to participate and co-operate in bringing the project to completion," he added.
"There is a continuous government effort to move forward with it on account of its economic returns and its role in bringing prosperity to the country and making it an important hub for trade exchange," al-Asadi said.
Ahead of the May conference, the Iraqi government was lobbying for its project during the May 19 Arab League summit in Jeddah, and during the visits by Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani to the UAE and Turkey.
"The project will, in principle, create 100,000 jobs, but upon its completion this figure will increase to more than one million jobs," al-Asadi said.
Iraq is hopeful for "huge investments on both sides of the road, such as the building of factories and development of agricultural projects and residential cities", he said.
It also anticipates an improvement in the services the project will provide in the areas of transport, tourism and trade, he added.
The road and the railway will not pass through urban centres, with the aim of drawing housing density towards uninhabited areas and encouraging the expansion of urban agglomerations.
The project's routes also were chosen in a way that does not infringe upon lands owned by individuals or government institutions, to ensure there are no administrative or legal obstacles that could delay its implementation.