|Iraq announced it wants to build a road and railway from Turkey to Basra's Al Faw Port which is still under construction 13 years after it was started (Iraqi News Agency)|
The Sudani government has been announcing a series of major projects one of which is the Development Road which seeks to build a road and railway from Basra in the Persian Gulf to Turkey. There are political and financial barriers to moving ahead with this idea plus the Iraqi government simply lacks the capacity to complete such a large proposal.
At the end of May Iraq presented its plan for a road and rail transportation system from the Persian Gulf to Turkey. It would cost an estimated $17 billion. Baghdad hopes this will increase the country's infrastructure and make Iraq a focus of global trade between Asia and Europe.
Immediately some problems were announced with the idea. First of all there's political opposition from Asaib Ahl Al-Haq’s political party in parliament which said the Development Road would only help the corrupt. The group is one of the major players in the ruling Coordination Framework. Second Iran might oppose the project because it could threaten its own ideas for Iraq. Tehran has its own plans to build a railway to Iraq and then across Syria to the Mediterranean. Third the project needs foreign investment and the Sudani government is looking towards China to help. Recently the Transportation Minister met with the Chinese ambassador in Baghdad. An economics expert told The National that China may not be interested because it knows how difficult it is to work in Iraq on such a large plan.
The biggest obstacle to the Development Road is the Iraqi government itself. Baghdad simply lacks the know-how, personnel and resolve to finish such a large project. For instance the Development Road is supposed to start at the Al-Faw port which is not finished after more than 13 years of planning and work.
In April 2010 the Transportation Minister said that an Italian consortium would start building the Faw port that month. (1) The project included major shipping facilities and a railway line to Turkey at an estimated cost of $4.6 billion. It was the biggest infrastructure project in Iraq in 30 years. 11 months later no work had been done and the Transportation Ministry announced it would offer tenders for the project by the end of 2011. (2) The ministry said the first phase of the project would be finished by the end of 2013 and the whole thing would be completed by 2017. It wasn't until April 2012 that construction actually started. Even then things quickly stalled. A Greek company was given a contract to build a breakwater but no company had been given the main job. Members of parliament held up the project over political disputes while the Transportation Minister said he had to return money for the project because it hadn't been spent which shut down most construction. It wasn't until August 2020 that the government said it signed a new contract with a South Korean company to resume work. The first two phases of the port were eventually completed by the start of 2021 but then stalled again due to protests by pro-Iran groups that wanted a Chinese company to take over which had no experience building ports. A parliamentarian said the political parties were trying to control the contract for their own gain. Despite that in December 2022 the Transportation Ministry said Faw would be completed by the end of 2024 a year early from its original date. Six days later officials and experts said that was not possible because of a lack of investment. The Faw port is a warning about what will likely happen with the Development Road. 13 years after the government announced the port project it is still not finished due to financial and political problems. The exact same issues are already evident with the new plans.
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