Iraq's new $17-billion development road project is the latest example of Baghdad's growing ties with regional partners
The large project is the latest move by Baghdad to align with regional partners to further advance socio-economic development
Last weekend, Iraq unveiled its plans for a large transport project that will connect Asia with Europe, in a move set to transform the country’s economy after decades of economic malaise fuelled by war.
The large project is the latest move by Baghdad to align with regional partners to further advance socio-economic development at a time when major regional players are coming together more frequently to solve key challenges.
Coined as the Development Road and unveiled at a conference attended by major regional players including officials from the UAE and other GCC states, officials in Baghdad believe the 1,200km transport infrastructure will dramatically shorten travel time between Asia and Europe, serving as a modernised alternative to the 150-year-old Suez Canal frequently beset by problems.
Iraqi prime minister and former minister of human rights, Mohammed Shiaa al-Sudani, explained that he sees the project as 'a pillar of a sustainable non-oil economy, a link that serves Iraq's neighbours and the region, and a contribution to economic integration efforts’.
Forecast to be completed within the next five years and spanning the length of the country from the northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south, Sudani is hopeful that regional players will massively benefit from the initiative and that those wishing to play a part in its development are warmly invited to do so.
The news comes as Baghdad continues to firmly assert itself on the world stage, building on a number of previous summits including the 'Baghdad II' meeting last December in Jordan which brought together a number of major regional players as well as representatives from the EU and UN.
During this gathering, Sudani was able to highlight his desire to build bridges with regional and international partners, engaging constructively in order to drive forward. Of course, questions will be raised as to the feasibility of the project's completion given previous project failings, but the atmosphere this time round is far more positive.
Ali Riza Guney, Turkey's ambassador to Baghdad, said that the planned project will 'boost interdependence between the countries of the region'.
Further, a number of conversations were held with regional partners in Baghdad last weekend, including a meeting between Sudani and the UAE's minister of energy and infrastructure, Suhai Al-Mazrouei. This built on a recent meeting between Sudani and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s vice-president, deputy prime minister and minister of the presidential court on the side-lines of the Arab League Summit in Jeddah.
To a degree, Sudani could look to position Iraq in much the same way the UAE has done with Dubai since the turn of the century, leveraging its geographic location and developing its investment attractiveness for foreign players. Iraq's geographical position, natural resources and newfound relative stability combined with Sudani's desire to work positively with regional partners is reminiscent of Dubai's emergence as a global economic powerhouse.
The prime minister has already embarked on a number of trips to regional partners including Iran, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and aspires to co-operate further, building on economic ties in order to supercharge Baghdad's economy.
The Development Road thus symbolises Baghdad's vision to re-assert itself on the regional (and indeed global) stage following decades of instability and misfortune for its 43+ million citizens.
By working closely with partners in the region, Iraq will be hopeful that it can pursue a Dubai-type strategy of building an environment conducive of economic growth, foreign investment and, in turn, positive and lasting socioeconomic development for its citizens.
While some concerns remain around the project, notably around security concerns in the northern part of the country, there is a widespread belief that Iraqi security forces together with international partners will continue to make good progress in the ongoing fight against terror.
Iraq's latest project signifies its re-emergence as a major regional political player and enables it to both collaborate with partners while also positively developing its domestic economy.
Only time will tell if the project is a genuine success, but the initial signs are incredibly positive.