A report this week said that an electrical connection will soon begin to supply Iraq with electricity. The report about the electricity comes as Iraq also claims it will invest some $17 billion in a development route that is supposed to link Turkey to the Gulf.
It is unclear how Iraq can manage to build up infrastructure when its own electrical grid is often overburdened. Iraq also signed a deal to connect to Saudi Arabia’s electrical grid, according to a 2022 report.
Nevertheless, Iraq is moving forward with a major road and rail network. This will supposedly stretch some 1,200 kilometers across the country. A report at VOA says that “Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani announced the project during a conference with transport ministry representatives from Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.”
Sudani said that “We see this project as a pillar of a sustainable non-oil economy, a link that serves Iraq’s neighbors and the region, and a contribution to economic integration efforts.”
Turkey praised the initiative. “The Route of Development will boost interdependence between the countries of the region,” Turkey’s ambassador to Baghdad Ali Riza Guney said. Supposedly, work has already begun in the port of Al-Faw in southern Iraq.
Iraq believes it can build 15 train stations in places such as Basra, Baghdad and Mosul. Ostensibly this project could dovetail with China’s interest in the Belt and Road Initiative. China brokered a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia recently.
Infrastructure work in Iraq and Iran
Iran is developing its own north-south economic corridor. It’s unclear if the Iranian corridor is a rival to Iraq. Saudi Arabia and Iran held talks in Iraq in recent years and Egypt and Jordan have also come to see Iraq as a potential partner.
Iraq suffered from huge infrastructure problems in the last decades, in part due to sanctions in the 1990s after Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait; and later after 2003 due to sectarian infighting. US investment after the 2003 invasion largely was not manifested in success; instead, billions was siphoned off or plowed into projects that failed. When ISIS took over a third of Iraq in 2014 more destruction was wrought due to the war. Cities such as Mosul were badly damaged and railroads were ruined and airports destroyed.
Iraq also has internal disputes with the Kurdistan autonomous region about issues such as budgets and oil export. Baghdad often wants to bypass the Kurdistan region, even though it is a region that is stable and successful. Many Iraqis have moved investments to the Kurdish region and Turkey invests heavily there as well. Iraq has had trouble returning investment to areas harmed by the ISIS war, such as Sinjar. If Iraq does put in new railways, this will be evidence that Iraq has brought security to the country.
Another issue is environmental problems. Iraq has serious environmental challenges. This includes pollution in Basra, rivers that are full of pollutants and even filled with debris and sunken vessels; and drinking water that is not drinkable. Protests after 2018 shed light on these problems.
In the North, there are also water problems due to Turkish dams that have apparently made the Tigris River shrink and also led to shortfalls in the water levels of the Mosul Dam. This means across the country basic issues such as drinking water and electricity are a challenge for Iraq. How the country will become a major road and train hub is unclear.
However, the recent return of Syria to the Arab League may be a hint.
With Syria back in the League, ostensibly Iraq can work with Syria and the Gulf and expand investment in roads and rail. The elephant in the room will then become the fact that the US has forces in eastern Syria backing the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey views the SDF as “terrorists” and Iraq won’t likely be able to build road or rail crossings to eastern Syria so long as this dispute continues.
Border crossings to Syria are often in the spotlight. The Semalka-Faysh Khabur crossing from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq to eastern Syria is often closed or has major issues relating to who can cross. The Syrian regime wants to control all the border crossings.
The natural choice for Iraq would be to use the Rabiah crossing north of Sinjar to go through Syria. This is an old crossing that has been closed at first due to the war on ISIS and then after due to disputes between authorities on both sides. There is a train station in Rabiah that is ripe for investment, if anyone will invest, and if the local authorities can sort things out. A working electric grid would need to be one of the basic things in returning investment in these areas.