Foundation Stone Ceremony:
- On September 2, 2023, Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber laid the foundation stone for the Basra-Chalamja connection project.
- The 20 miles of new rail lines will connect the southeastern Iraqi port city of Basra with the Iranian border town of Chalamja.
- Construction is projected to finish between March and September 2025.
- The Basra-Chalamja project was arranged in 2014 but was postponed due to violence from the Islamic State, complications with an over-water bridge and under-water dredging, and the need for demining on the Iraqi side.
- According to al-Sudani, the goal of the project is to transport travelers from Iran and Central Asian countries to Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.
- The ceremony coincided with the Shia holiday of Arbaeen – a pilgrimage to the Iraqi city of Karbala.
- Four million of this year’s 22 million pilgrims were Iranian. For reference, the largest pilgrimage of Hajj saw roughly 2.5 million pilgrims.
Development Road Project:
- The Basra-Chalamja project is part of Iraq’s $17-billion Development Road Project, a 745 mile long rail, road, and energy pipeline project from Iraq’s northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south.
- According to the Iraqi Minister of Transport Razak Muhibis al-Saadawi, the goal of the Development Road Project is to create an “economic renaissance” in Iraq as well as “link the east with the west and maximize the revenues of the state treasury.”
- The improved infrastructure is projected to add $4 billion annually for Iraq and create roughly 100,000 new jobs.
- The project has attracted interest from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkiye, and China, each of whom are looking to capitalize on the potential energy dividends from improved Iraqi infrastructure.
- In addition to the Basra-Chalamja Connection, Iraq plans to finish construction of the Al-Faw port, built by South Korea’s Daewoo E&C.
- When finished, Al-Faw will be one of the largest ports in the world.
- The Basra-Chalamja Connection project comes amid a growing desire from both Baghdad and Tehran to reenter the international sphere.
- Iran is a member state of the International North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC), a network of ship, rail, and road routes that connect Moscow with Mumbai.
- By bypassing the Suez Canal, the NSTC is 40% shorter and 30% cheaper than traditional routes.
- When fully completed, Iran will earn roughly $20 billion annually from the NSTC.
- In March 2023, China facilitated the normalization of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, a process that began in 2021 with the help of then Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
- Iraq is heavily dependent on Iranian electricity and pays Iran through restricted channels with a U.S. national security waiver.
- Iraq was Iran’s second biggest trade partner in 2021, after China.