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

A helicopter flies over a gesturing Jordanian security guard at the Al-Karameh border point with Iraq on August 30, 2017. Jordan and Iraq reopened their only border crossing, saying security had been restored three years after the Islamic State group seized control of frontier areas. (AFP)
Updated 30 August 2017

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

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 traffic 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 finalised, 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 re-opening that would include senior Jordanian and Iraqi officials.
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 an historic hotbed of the hardline Sunni insurgency sparked by 2003’s U.S.-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-and run 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 U.S. 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 percent 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 U.S.-Russian de-escalation zone in southwest Syria that includes the area is cemented.
The International Monetary Fund recently said that prolonged conflicts in neighbouring Syria and Iraq were weighing on the kingdom's debt-ridden economy and the opening of these export routes would boost economic growth.


Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

Updated 13 November 2019

Iraq officials must ‘step up’ to enact reforms: UN envoy

  • UN has put forward a phased roadmap calling for an immediate end to violence and electoral reform within 2 weeks
  • Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change

BAGHDAD: Iraqi officials must ramp up their response to mass demonstrations demanding an overhaul of the political system, the UN representative in Baghdad told AFP in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who heads the UN’s Iraq mission (UNAMI), said the country’s authorities must “step up to the plate and make things happen.”
“They are elected by the people, they are accountable to them,” she said.
Protests broke out in Baghdad and the country’s Shiite-majority south in early October over rampant corruption, lack of jobs and notoriously poor services.
One in five people lives below the poverty line, despite the vast oil wealth of OPEC’s second biggest producer.
The United Nations has proposed a phased roadmap that, in a crucial step, was endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani after meeting Hennis-Plasschaert.
It calls for an immediate end to violence, electoral reform and anti-graft measures within two weeks followed by constitutional amendments and infrastructure legislation within three months.
Hennis-Plasschaert discussed the plan with lawmakers on the sidelines of a parliamentary session on Wednesday, telling them: “Now is the time to act, otherwise any momentum will be lost — lost at a time when many, many Iraqis demand concrete results.”
Protesters have escalated their demands to deep-rooted regime change, unimpressed by government promises of reform.
“There is lots at stake here. Public trust is at an all-time low,” Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP.
“Nothing is more detrimental to public trust than saying ‘A’ and doing ‘B.’ Nothing is more harmful than overpromising and under-delivering,” she added.
Hennis-Plasschaert, 46, was named UNAMI chief last year after having served as the Netherlands defense minister from 2012 until 2017.
She is one of the very few diplomatic figures who meets with Sistani, the revered 89-year-old cleric who never appears in public.
Following their meeting on Monday, she said Sistani, known as the marjaiyah, feared political forces were “not serious enough” to enact reforms.
“If the three authorities — executive, judiciary and legislative — are not able or willing to conduct these reforms decisively, there must be a way to think of a different approach,” she warned at the time.
Pressed by AFP on what the “different approach” could be, Hennis-Plasschaert declined to elaborate, citing “the confidentiality we have with him.”
“The conversation with Grand Ayatollah Sistani is always straightforward, open, and frank, but I cannot go into further detail,” the top diplomat said.
Demonstrators gathering in the main protest camp of Baghdad’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Wednesday said her meeting with Sistani helped bolster their crowds.
Hennis-Plasschaert met with protesters in Tahrir last month, even riding in the tuk-tuk rickshaw that has become an icon of the uprising for ferrying wounded protesters to medics.
“They are losing brothers and friends in the streets,” she said of the young protesters she had met.
More than 300 people have died and 15,000 people have been wounded since demonstrations erupted on October 1.
“We are witnessing rising numbers of deaths and injured every day. It’s horrific,” Hennis-Plasschaert said.
The protests initially fractured the political class but it has rallied in recent days to prop up the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi.
Politicians closed ranks following a series of meetings with top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, an extremely influential figure who often brokers deals among Iraq’s fractured political class.
Hennis-Plasschaert told AFP she did not seek to be a counter-weight to Iranian influence but said she feared that “spoilers” could prevent progress.
“This country unfortunately knows many actors, external, internal, that could act as spoilers (and) undermine the legitimate demands of the people,” she said.