Transport plans underpin Iraq’s reconstruction

25 May 2023

MEED's June 2023 special report on Iraq also includes:

> GOVERNMENTSudani makes fitful progress as Iraq's premier
> ECONOMYIraq hits the spend button​​​​​​​
> POWERIraq power projects make headway
> UPSTREAM DEVELOPERSNo place like Iraq for international oil firms
> OIL & GASIraq's energy sector steadily expands
> TOTALENERGIESTotal to activate $27bn Iraq contract this year
> TRANSPORTBaghdad approves funds for metro and airport projects


Iraq’s construction and transport sectors look to be turbocharged by its bumper 2023 budget, which envisages a series of major transport investments, alongside social infrastructure and housing plans.

With its new government in place since last year’s election and fiscally cushioned by higher oil prices, Baghdad has returned its attention to rebuilding and modernising the country’s ailing transport and social infrastructure in 2023.

Between 2016 and 2020, there were reportedly 971 reconstruction projects in the country, 718 of them completed. In 2021, the Fund for the Reconstruction of Areas Affected by Terrorist Operations completed 97 projects at a cost of ID86.7bn ($59.5m).

In 2018, Baghdad also released a forward-looking list of 157 projects in need of investment, with a $88bn price tag. These projects included the upgrade and repair of roads, bridges and airports, new city projects, and the rebuilding of hospitals, telecommunications and oil-related industries.

Despite rising revenues, Iraq’s contract awards in construction and transport decreased from $4.1bn in 2021 to only $0.6bn in 2022, according to MEED Projects.

The much larger awards value for 2021 was bolstered by several major contracts including  the Ministry of Education’s selection of China’s Sinotec and Power China for the construction of 1,000 schools in different parts of the country. The contracts, worth $2bn, were part of the “oil for reconstruction” and investment deal signed between Iraq and China in 2019. Under the agreement, Chinese firms work in Iraq in exchange for 100,000 barrels of oil a day.

In 2021, the Basra Provincial Council also awarded a $312m contract to the local Al-Narjess Trading & General Contracting for the phase 2 rehabilitation of roads, drainages and sewerage networks in Zubair City.

Big transport ambitions

Although beset by delays since its 2012 commencement date, the ID7.6tn ($5.8bn) Al-Faw Grand Port masterplan is one of the most significant projects under way in Iraq. Located on the northern tip of the Gulf, it is tentatively set to be completed by 2025.

With this flagship port heading towards the finish line, Baghdad is now making moves to expand upon its logistics potential and, specifically, Iraq’s ability to connect freight from the Gulf directly to Europe.

In April, the design was completed for the high-speed ‘Dry Canal’ rail link to Turkiye planned by the Ministry of Transport (MoT).

The scheme will connect the Al-Faw Grand Port in the south with northern Iraq and Turkiye through 1,200 kilometres of new electric railway track. It is one of the region’s largest rail schemes, and aims to provide a cost-effective overland route to Europe to rival the Suez Canal.

Last year, Italian engineering services company Progetti Europa & Global was appointed to carry out feasibility studies for the project. Current plans envisage high-speed trains operating alongside conventional passenger and freight trains. The MoT plans to tender contracts for the multibillion-dollar project by the end of 2023.

In addition to the rail line, Iraq’s Ministry of Transportation is considering a new highway linking the Al-Faw Port to Turkiye.

More recently, Iraq has approved funding for the first elevated metro in its capital and the expansion of Baghdad International airport, as part of the government’s 2023 budget. 

The funds will allow work to proceed on the much-delayed Baghdad elevated train project this year, while the airport expansion could start in the second half of 2023. Plans for the metro date back to the late 1970s, and if it had been built then, it would have been the first urban railway in the Arab world. The metro was also included in the 2022 budget, with the Ministry of Finance allocating $2bn to it.

Baghdad airport currently operates three terminals, each designed for 2.5 million passengers a year. The expansion will increase the capacity to 15 million passengers.

Other airport projects are also under way. In March 2022, the foundation stone was laid for Anbar International airport, and in April of that year, then prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi gave the green light for the rehabilitation of Mosul airport. 

In 2021, China State Construction Engineering Corporation finalised a $367m deal for the revived Nasiriyah International airport in Dhi Qar, with works commencing in February 2023.

In the past few months, Iraq has also announced over 150 public service and development projects in the capital Baghdad, including 70 road developments, pavements, bridges and overpasses, estimated to cost nearly $17bn over the first two phases.

Housing capacity

Meanwhile, Iraq’s housing shortfall of three million homes is rapidly becoming a major housing crisis for the government. The situation is being exacerbated by Iraq’s rising population. According to UN projections, the country’s population is projected to swell to 50 million by 2030, from around 44 million today.

Baghdad is advancing various large residential schemes to address this, the largest expected to be awarded this year being the mixed-use New Babylon City project. This is being developed by the Ministry of Housing at an estimated cost of $1.03bn. State entities are also taking matters into their own hands. Basra Oil Company, for example, is developing a $156m residential complex for its employees.

Yet such projects alone are unlikely to meet the soaring demand for affordable housing, which looks set to remain a key priority for the government for the foreseeable future.
Eva Levesque
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