Riyadh and Tehran draw up new ‘soft power’ battle lines at Basra

Iran VP Eshaq Jahangiri and Iraqi PM 80318 BaghdadMore than a quarter of a century after the road to Basra briefly became short hand for death and destruction, the southern Iraqi provincial capital looks set to become the source of a new but economically beneficial struggle after Iran offered to open up a $3bn credit line to help with the reconstruction of Iraq. The offer came from Iranian Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri during a meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi last week where he pledged to connect the two countries’ rail networks and to build a bridge across the Arvand River to give Iraq a transport route to the Mediterranean in one direction and to Central Asia and China in the other.
The announcement was made during the course of a meeting between the two politicians in Baghdad on Wednesday evening and brought into focus the ‘soft power’ struggle for influence in Iraq – and particularly around oil-rich Basra – that is now unfolding between the Shia authorities in Iran and the Sunni ruling family in Riyadh
Oil fields of IraqSeveral state-owned Saudi businesses (including the petrochemical giant SABIC) are in the process of offices registering offices in Baghdad, according to The Economist and, at a conference in Kuwait last month, the Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, pledged $1bn in loans and $500m in export credit to support Iraq’s reconstruction after the war with Islamic State (IS). Projects earmarked by the Saudis for investment include Basra’s moribund petrochemical plant, which, pertinently, could help wean Iraq off Iranian products, and the possibility of using underground aquifers to irrigate fields for agricultural along the border. Iraqi officials are also hoping that the Saudis will finance railroads and reopen the pipeline that, until 1990, shuttled Iraq’s oil to the Red Sea.
For its part, Tehran’s stated priority is to connect the two countries’ rail networks by means of two arteries. The first will require construction of a 700-meter long drawbridge over the River and a 32-km rail line running from the Khuzestani border town of Shalamcheh to Basra in Iraq, while the second will cross the border at Khosravi.
Arvand Free ZoneIran has also opened a free-trade zone on the outskirts of Shalamcheh and unilaterally lifted visa requirements for Iraqi consumers flooding over the border to take advantage of the collapse of the Iranian rial, which has lost a quarter of its value in the past six months.
During his meeting with al-AbadiJ, Jahangiri went on to stress that Iran saw no limitation on expanding cooperation with Iraq in various fields, including oil, gas and pharmaceuticals.

Source: mehrnews