Jor­dan bor­der cross­ing with Iraq to re­open in ma­jor boost to ties

Business World - - THE WORLD -

AMMAN — Jor­dan will open its main bor­der cross­ing with Iraq on Wed­nes­day for the first time since 2015, now that Iraqi forces have gained con­trol of the main high­way to Baghdad from Is­lamic State mil­i­tants, both gov­ern­ments said.

Iraqi troops pulled out of the Tureibil post, on the 180 km (110 mile) bor­der, in sum­mer 2014 af­ter the mil­i­tants se­cured nearly all the of­fi­cial cross­ings of the west­ern fron­tier as they swept through a third of the coun­try.

Com­mer­cial traff ic con­tin­ued for a year af­ter un­til Iraq launched an of­fen­sive in July 2015 to re­claim the pre­dom­i­nately Sunni An­bar prov­ince and de­prive the mil­i­tants of funds raised from truck driv­ers forced to pay a tax on cargo com­ing in from Jor­dan.

Tureibil would open on Wed­nes­day af­ter the road was se­cured “from at­tacks and crim­i­nal gangs,” the Iraqi and Jor­da­nian gov­ern­ments said in a joint statement.

Of­fi­cials have said that cus­toms and bor­der ar­range­ments have been fi­nal­ized, with se­cu­rity mea­sures in place to en­sure the 550 km high­way from the bor­der to Baghdad was safe.

“The open­ing of the cross­ing is of great im­por­tance to Jor­dan and Iraq ... It’s a cru­cial artery. Jor­dan and Iraq have been dis­cussing re­open­ing it for a while,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Ghaleb al Zubi said last week.

Sev­eral trade and busi­ness of­fi­cials had said they had been in­vited to an event on Wed­nes­day to mark the re­open­ing that would in­clude se­nior Jor­da­nian and Iraqi off icials.

Since last year, the Iraqi army has re­gained most of An­bar prov­ince’s main towns that fell to the ul­tra-hard­line ji­hadist group.

The vast desert prov­ince is a his­toric hot­bed of the hard­line Sunni in­sur­gency sparked by 2003’s US- led in­va­sion of Iraq, which em­pow­ered the oil-rich na­tion’s Shi’ite ma­jor­ity.

Iraq has also been work­ing on se­cur­ing the high­way that con­nects Iraq’s Basra port in the south to Jor­dan, where the Red Sea port of Aqaba has long served as a gate­way for Iraqi im­ports com­ing from Europe.

Al­though the high­way has been se­cured af­ter driv­ing out the ji­hadists, the threat of hit- an­drun at­tacks on con­voys and the army are ever present, ac­cord­ing to se­cu­rity ex­perts.

There have been sev­eral at­tacks by mil­i­tants near al-Rutba town, the last town be­fore the bor­der with Jor­dan.

A se­nior West­ern diplo­matic said Iraqi au­thor­i­ties have awarded a con­tract to a US se­cu­rity com­pany that will em­ploy a lo­cal force to se­cure the high­way. The source gave no fur­ther de­tails.

Jor­dan hopes the re­open­ing of the route will re­vive ex­ports to Iraq, once the king­dom’s main ex­port mar­ket, ac­count­ing that ac­counted for al­most a fifth of do­mes­tic ex­ports or about $ 1.2 bil­lion a year, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund.

They have fallen by more than 50% from pre-cri­sis lev­els.

“This will in­crease in­dus­trial ex­ports and also re­vive the two coun­tries’ truck­ing in­dus­try. It’s a ma­jor boost to the econ­omy,” Nael Husami, gen­eral man­ager of the Amman Cham­ber of In­dus­try, adding trans­port costs would fall by nearly half.

Jor­da­nian ex­porters have had to use more ex­pen­sive sea routes to Iraq’s Um Qasr port or an­other land route across Saudi Ara­bia and Kuwait, busi­ness­men have said. The restora­tion of trade links will also give a push to an oil pipe­line project run­ning from Basra to Aqaba. Prime Min­is­ter Hani al Mulki had vis­ited Baghdad ear­lier this year to re­vive the frozen project.

Jor­da­nian of­fi­cials are hope­ful the cross­ing with Syria on its north­ern bor­der can also open by the end of the year once a USRus­sian de- es­ca­la­tion zone in south­west Syria that in­cludes the area is ce­mented.

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