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Turkey, Iraq, Qatar and UAE sign transportation deal that hopes to connect Gulf to Europe

Erdogan signs 26 agreements with Baghdad during a first state visit in 12 years, covering energy, defence and trade
(L to R) UAE's Energy Minister Suhail Mohamed al-Mazrouei, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iraq's Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, Qatar's Minister of Transport Jassim bin Saif bin Ahmed al-Sulaiti, in Baghdad, 22 April 2024 (Reuters)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkey, Iraq, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding in Baghdad to cooperate on the Iraq Development Road project that would connect the Gulf to Europe, during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

The deal was inked by the transportation ministers from each country in the presence of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia al-Sudani and Erdogan, who was on his first visit to Iraq in 12 years.

The memorandum commits the signatory states to establish the necessary frameworks to implement the project, which aims to establish a 1,200km highway and railway project that would link the Gulf to Turkey through Iraq.

Iraq, Turkey and Gulf Arab states plan to carry goods through al-Faw port in Iraq’s Basra governorate to international markets via Turkey.

Emirati company, the AD Ports Group, last week signed a preliminary agreement with joint venture partner General Company for Ports of Iraq. The new joint venture will develop al-Faw Grand Port and its economic zone.

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The Iraqi prime minister’s office said in a statement that the four-way deal "will contribute to stimulating economic growth and strengthening regional and international cooperation between the East and West", and it will also provide a "new competitive transport route, and promote regional economic prosperity".

Rivalling IMEC

Erdogan is among the chief backers of the Iraq Development Road project, promoting it against the rival Israel and UAE-backed India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) initiative, which bypasses Turkey.

The Iraqi government envisions trains operating at speeds of up to 300 km per hour, facilitating the transportation of both passengers and goods.

Additionally, plans include the establishment of logistics hubs, industrial complexes and the potential integration of oil and gas pipelines.

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This ambitious scheme is estimated to require an investment of around $17bn, with projected annual returns of $4bn and the creation of a minimum of 100,000 jobs.

Turkey and Iraq also signed 26 memorandum of understanding on Monday, covering areas such as energy, defence, trade, water, security cooperation, military training, agricultural studies and a comprehensive deal on anstrategic framework.

Erdogan said during televised remarks that joint committees will be formed for all these areas and will convene regularly to resolve arising issues or to deepen cooperation.

Mentioning the water scarcity in Iraq due to climate change, Erdogan said Turkey would work with Baghdad to remedy the crisis with scientific work.

Baghdad has long accused the Turkish government of filling the dams on the Euphrates river, resulting in loss of annual water. Ankara on the other hand says it increased the water release beyond the agreed parameters in previous years to alleviate drought in Iraq.

'New era'

One of the most important aspects of the visit was Turkey’s upcoming major military operation in northern Iraq to push Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) forces 30 km from the border area. Ankara in March argued that the operation was mandatory to secure the Iraq Development Road project.

"We cannot allow an attack on another country from Iraqi territory," Sudani said during the joint press conference. "The security of Iraq and Turkey is indivisible."

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Erdogan on the other hand said that he appreciated Iraq’s decision to declare PKK as a banned group and expects Baghdad to declare it a terror group in near future.

"I hope the new deals we signed today will usher in a new era between Turkey and Iraq, " Erdogan added.

Erdogan will visit Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil later on Monday.

I​​n March 2023, the pipeline linking Iraq and Turkey, which represents about 0.5 percent of total global oil supplies, was shut after the International Chamber of Commerce ruled that Ankara had violated the terms of the 1973 agreement by facilitating oil exports from the Iraqi Kurdistan region without the approval of the Iraqi federal government in Baghdad.

Ankara declared that the pipeline was ready to work last September but Baghdad couldn’t begin work due to payment disagreements between the central government and Erbil.

The loss of 450,000 barrels per day has caused a loss of income estimated at $11bn-$12bn for Iraq.

Iraq is currently seeking to restart the Turkish Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline that has been shut since the Islamic State group seized large swathes of Iraq in 2014. The reopening of the pipeline would allow 350,000 barrels per day of oil to be pumped to Turkey.

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