New Silk Road, a new breath in the Middle Corridor… Concrete steps in the Development Road Project, which will start from the Persian Gulf, the foundations of which were laid in 2005, pass through the important cities of Iraq such as Divaniye, Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad and Mosul, and reach Turkey and therefore Europe. begins to be thrown.
The visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Shia es-Sudani to Turkey in the past days revealed that there is a unity of understanding between the two countries in the Development Road Project. So much so that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defined the project as the new Silk Road and emphasized its importance:
“We emphasized our determination to work together for the realization of the ‘Development Road Project’ for the construction of the road and rail transport corridor stretching from Basra to the Turkish border. On this occasion, we are appointing our minister friends who will carry out this work. With the Ankara Declaration we accepted, we took a critical step that shows our will to work together towards this goal. The Development Road is a strategically important project not only for Turkey and Iraq, but also for the entire region. Millions of people in a wide geography from Europe to the Gulf will benefit from the added value that will emerge from the construction of this road. We know that other brotherly countries are also closely interested in this project, which will strengthen regional cooperation, develop our trade, and strengthen our human relations. I believe that we will transform the ‘Development Road Project’ into the new Silk Road of our region, with their participation, I hope.”
The importance of the Middle Corridor, which is strategically important for the revival of the historical Silk Road and reaches the Caucasus starting from Turkey, and then crossing the Caspian Sea to Central Asia and China, following Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, is increasing day by day.
The Middle Corridor, which is an alternative to the “Northern Corridor” in which Russia is located and the “South Corridor” in which Iran is located, has an important place for the integration of China and Europe. This line, stretching from Beijing to London, is at the heart of the annual trade traffic of more than 600 billion dollars.
The North and South corridors connecting China and the countries of the region to the Middle East and Europe are also included in the category of lines with a high probability of experiencing difficulties in terms of their geopolitical positions. Instability in the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq, increased the risk in the Southern Corridor, while the Northern Corridor was adversely affected by the Russia-Ukraine War. This situation increased the strategic importance of the Middle Corridor.
The fact that Turkey, through which the Middle Corridor passes, controls all of the strategic transit routes in the context of Asia-Europe, brought the country to a key position in the project.
Here, it is evaluated that the Development Road Project will also contribute to the increasing value of the Middle Corridor. So, what is the Development Road Project? What does it mean for Türkiye and the region?
The beginning of the story: Big Faw Harbor
In 2005, the Basra local administration proposes to the government to build the largest port in the region with a budget of approximately 5 billion dollars on the Faw Peninsula, which opens to the Persian Gulf. Thus begins the story.
Essentially, the project is too big for Iraq’s own needs. The significance of the project depends on two conditions. The first of these should be aimed at transporting goods from the port to be established to third countries. The second is to cooperate with the countries of the region that will support the project and increase the value of the project.
With this aim, Iraq started the Faw Port works. This port is expected to welcome the first ship in September 2024 and fully open in 2025. This situation doubled the rush to build a strategic road from the port to the neighbors. Because if there is no such way, the port may become useless after it is opened.
Development Road/Dry Channel Project
The Iraqi Ministry of Transport announced in April 2010 that it had accepted investment offers for the construction of a railway from Faw to Syria and Turkey to take advantage of the Greater Faw Port. Also, in March 2014, Iraq signed an agreement with the World Bank for this purpose.
On the other hand, Iraq’s geopolitical importance has increased even more with the development and lease of Pakistan’s Gwadar Port by China in 2015. Because Chinese goods reaching Gwadar will be able to reach Europe in a short time at a much lower cost, instead of reaching Europe by sea through the Suez Canal.
The “China-Pakistan Economic Corridor” (CPEC) project, which aims to connect the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China, Pakistan in a northeast-southwest direction with the ports of Gwadar and Karachi to the Arabian Sea, is at the heart of the Belt and Road Initiative. taking.
The size of the highway projects, port and free zone constructions carried out within the scope of the project exceeded 70 billion dollars as of 2020. The projects are aimed at making Pakistan a key logistics base for shipping Chinese manufactured products to the world.
The importance of CPEC for China lies in its offering alternative shipping routes to the Straits of Malacca. This also saves a great deal due to the shortening of the path. The Strait of Malacca is important because 25 percent of global trade is made through this strait. Again, 85% of China’s oil imports pass through this strait. Therefore, the port of Gwadar is of critical importance as part of the project that will shorten the said waterway.
Here, the importance of Gwadar Port and the aforementioned Faw Port converge.
After Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 and the problems that arose in Europe’s relations with Russia, the transfer route of Qatar gas and the extraction of Iraqi gas and its export to Europe increased the importance of the Development Road project.
Project Success Opportunities
The Development Road Project, as well as the high-speed train line, during this period; The highway will also cover economic projects and services such as oil transmission line and gas transmission line of Iraq and Gulf countries.
Minister of Transport, Adil Karaismailoğlu, describes the project, which he mentioned as 1200 kilometers, as the new Silk Road and points out that important developments will be experienced with the Gulf countries.
“We have previously held talks with them about the logistics corridor that will change the balance in the world. At the level of governments, under the leadership of our President, the foundations of a new Silk Road are being laid. Especially a 1200-kilometer-long railway and highway stretching from the Persian Gulf and Baghdad to the borders of our country. As a result of this, together with the Faw Port in the Persian Gulf, where it connects, I hope there will be very important developments in the coming days regarding Turkey, Iraq and especially the Gulf countries that will use this place.”
Iranian Studies Center Senior Specialist Müştak El-Hilo defines the project as a step that will “change the geopolitics of the Gulf countries”.
On the other hand, the project can create benefits and economic opportunities that can attract their support even for Iraqi armed groups. For all these reasons, former Iraqi Transport Minister Nasser Hussein Bandar Shibli believes that the implementation of this project will bring greater security and stability to Iraq. Because it is thought that the countries benefiting from the project will make an effort to ensure the security of the project in question.
This route, which starts from Basra, will enter Turkey from the contact point of Iraq, Turkey and Syria after passing through the important cities of Iraq and continue to Europe from Mersin Port. The project, with a cost of approximately $20 billion, is expected to be completed by 2029, according to the plan. Iraq is incapable of providing such an amount, and therefore the course of the project is strictly dependent on foreign investment.
Muttak El-Hilo draws attention to the importance of Turkey in financing:
“Türkiye is one of the sponsors of this project. Because apart from the economic benefits to be obtained, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu; He promised a loan of 5 billion dollars at the “Iraq Reconstruction Conference” held in Kuwait in February 2018. During the visit of former Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kazimi to Ankara in late 2020, it was said that this loan was given for the construction of the road in question.”
Instead of the result…
Türkiye is rapidly improving its relations with both Iraq and the Gulf countries. This recovery also brings many new, big and very attractive opportunities.
The Development Road Project also gives important signs for the countries of the region to form an economic union, to look after each other’s interests and to avoid hostile activities. The period of stability to be experienced in Iraq, one of Turkey’s most important export partners, will contribute greatly to Turkey both in bilateral relations and in the work to be carried out through third countries.
On the other hand, it is extremely important for the Middle Corridor to grow, expand and produce alternatives.
The Zangezur Corridor is already expected to make a significant contribution in this regard.
It is known that Armenia also wants to take advantage of these commercial opportunities. The corridor that will reach from China to Gwadar Port, from there to Faw Port and to Europe via Turkey is both less costly and faster.
Besides its economic benefits, the Development Road Project seems to open a new page in both Turkey-Iraq relations and Turkey-Gulf relations.