The Iraqi government has for a first time allocated a budget to a key railway project that links the country’s southern port of Basra to Iran’s border town of Shalamcheh, according to a senior official in Iran’s Foreign Ministry.
Mehdi Safari, who serves as deputy Iranian foreign minister for economic diplomacy, said on Thursday that Iran and Iraq had reached an agreement to start the long-anticipated construction works for the 32-kilometer railway project after the holy month of Ramadan in late April.
“Iraq has allocated a budget of nearly $230 million for the Shalamcheh-Basra railway and this is happening for a first time,” Safari was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The comments came a day after Iraq’s transportation minister Razzaq Muhibis Al-Saadawi paid a short visit to Tehran to finalize a series of bilateral agreements and projects, including the cross-border railway project.
Iran’s transportation minister Mehrdad Bazrpash said that a first phase of construction works for Shalamcheh-Basra railway will involve demining operations on lands in border regions that have remained inaccessible since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Bazrpash said Iranian companies will then start building an 880-meter modern bridge on the Shatt al Arab River in Iraq while launching track-laying works at the same time.
He said the entire project is expected to take 18 months, adding that Iran and Iraq will be able to extend the timing based on recent agreements reached between the two countries.
Experts say the launch of Shalamcheh-Basra rail link will lead to a major increase in trade and religious tourism between Iran and Iraq.
The project will also give Iran railway access to Syria and Jordan through the Iraqi territory while enabling Iraq to take delivery of cargo via Iran’s large rail network from other countries.
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