Nasser al-Asadi, Iraq's prime minister's adviser on transport, said the first railway with Iran is expected to be completed within 18 months, a project that is supposed to facilitate the transport of millions of visitors to Shiite shrines in Iraq, as Tehran is counting on to reach the Mediterranean.

Al-Assadi told Reuters on Tuesday that "we are expected to see trains move in about 18 months due to the short distance."

The line is set to run for about 30 kilometers from the southern Iraqi city of Basra to Iran's Shalamja.

An adviser to the Iraqi prime minister said the government also planned to build a subway line between Karbala and Najaf.

According to the Reuters news agency, about 20 million Shiites participate each year in commemorating the Arbaeen of Imam Hussein in the Iraqi city of Karbala.

Many walk hundreds of kilometers from the Iran-Iraq border to Karbala, while some drive or board overcrowded buses, adding to the number of accidents.

Regarding the proliferation of mines dating back to the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) in the border area, al-Assadi explained that work is underway to clear the area before work begins on the ground.

He pointed out that the railway line will reduce the risk of traffic accidents during the seasons of religious visits, and will allow Iraq to benefit financially from ticket sales.

Assadi's remarks come after Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iranian First Vice President Mohammed Mukhabar laid the foundation stone for the railway project that extends between Iran's Shalamjah and Iraq's Basra.

The @mohamedshia Prime Minister confirms that the rail link through the Shalamjah port is one of multiple links to transport travelers and visitors to the holy shrines, scheduled to reach the provinces of Najaf and Karbala.

— Prime Minister's 🇮🇶 Information Office (@IraqiPMO) September 2, 2023

Importance of the project

Although they agreed on the importance of the project and its impact on strengthening bilateral relations, the Iranian side spoke of its intention to link its territory to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq, while Baghdad believes that its goal does not exceed the transport of passengers between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mehrdad Bazarbash spoke about the importance of this project in enabling his country to connect to the ports of West Asia and the Mediterranean through the "East-West" corridor.

He revealed in press statements during his inspection of the Shalamja border crossing, an agreement with the Syrian regime to link the rail between Tehran and Damascus, adding that his country will put the task of forming a tripartite alliance with the participation of Iran, Iraq and Syria on its agenda, and the rail link will be at its core.

Observers in Tehran believe that the extension of railways and highways between Iran and Iraq to Damascus and then Beirut is a strategic goal for Iran, but it faces fierce opposition due to the US presence on Iraqi and Syrian territory.

On the Iraqi side, the project has angered many researchers because of what they see as harm to national interests, while the government denies these allegations.

Iraqi government spokesman Bassem Al-Awadi said – in response to the views that the project will affect the economic status of the port of Faw – that the government did not lay the foundation stone for the project until after studying the economic feasibility and ensuring that such projects do not affect the sovereignty of the country.