Iraq has launched a dedicated unit to oversee the execution of its ambitious 'Route of Development' project worth $17 billion that will see road and rail infrastructure being developed in the country in bid to link Europe with the Gulf and other Middle Eastern countries, said the Iraqi Ministry of Transport spokesperson, Shada Radi.

Once completed, the project known as the “Route of Development” would stretch 1,200 km from the northern border with Turkey to the Gulf in the south, reported AFP.

The plan includes the construction of around 15 stations along the route, including in the major cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, and up to the Turkish border.

According to Radi, the project aims to bolster economic cooperation between Iraq, Turkey, and Europe.

The initial measures have already been set in motion, including soil surveying activities to determine the optimal route for both the rail and road links.

The new office will also be tasked with contacting Gulf nations and other countries to explore possible contributions to the project’s realisation, she stated.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al Sudani had presented the mega plan at a recent conference which was attended by senior transport ministry representatives from Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the UAE.

"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," stated Sudani.

While further discussions are required, any country that wishes “will be able to carry out part of the project,” the Iraqi parliament’s transport committee said, adding that the project could be completed in “three to five years.”

The project aims to tie the Grand Faw Port in Iraq's oil-rich south to Turkey, turning the country into a transit hub by shortening travel time between Asia and Europe in a bid to rival the Suez Canal, reported Reuters.

"The Development Road is not just a road to move goods or passengers. This road opens the door to development of vast areas of Iraq," said Farhan al-Fartousi, director general of the General Company for Ports of Iraq.

Iraq's government envisions high-speed trains moving goods and passengers at up to 300km per hour, links to local industry hubs and an energy component that could include oil and gas pipelines, he noted.

Developing the road and rail corridor would allow Iraq to capitalize on its geographical position, with the aim of making the country a transportation hub for goods and people moving between the Gulf, Turkey and Europe.

It would mark a significant departure from the country's existing aged transport network.

Iraq's train service currently operates a handful of lines, including slow oil freight and a single overnight passenger train that trundles from Baghdad to Basra, taking 10 to 12 hours to cover 500km.

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