TRANSPORT: MoT is put to the test

26 May 2006

A cursory look at the website of the Ministry of Transport (MoT) reveals very little. No solid information about the ministry can be found. Its responsibilities are unclear and its contact details are limited to a handful of email addresses. Almost every link button leads to a frustrating -'under construction' logo. But click on the invitation and bids link, and it's a different story. In recent weeks, the MoT's tendering section has never been busier, with a raft of new railway tenders suddenly appearing.

Among the MoT's activities is to supervise four key organisations serving the country's transport sector - the Iraqi Ports Authority (IPA), the Iraqi Republic Railways Company (IRRC), the Iraqi Civil Aviation Department and the recently created Iraq-Jordan Land Transport Company, which was set up to provide secure trucking services. 'When we approached the MoT, we were very cool,' says Mark Burr, senior consultant, trade and industry, at the US embassy's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office (IRMO) in Baghdad. 'We had a bad relationship, but if you go down south now and see how well the transportation is working, they have done a great job.'

The ministry's activities have been low-key, partly due to the ongoing security situation. Its mandate has been to secure and speed up the rehabilitation of the road networks, develop the rail system and upgrade the southern ports.

For any of Iraq's industrial developments to succeed, its transport infrastructure has to be restored to its full capacity. 'Trucking is vital and linking the railways with Iran and Syria is very important,' says deputy transport minister Nabeil Atta. 'We have to make sure we don't do just one-way loads. We need to come back loaded. Transit and transferring goods from Iran and Kuwait to the Mediterranean directly is good business and saves about three days on shipping and Suez Canal duties. This is what we can offer.'

According to the ministry, about 25 million-30 million tonnes a year (t/y) of goods are imported by road. This is expected to grow to 45 million-55 million t/y this year and substantially increase should the country begin exporting.

The network, however, remains limited partly due to the security situation. The main border crossing to Turkey is entirely safe, but truckers face queues of more than 50 kilometres as bureaucratic procedures slow progress. More than 2,000 trucks pass the Rabie border crossing with Syria each day, although the road is in poor condition, despite good security. Likewise, the Kuwait-Basra-Baghdad link is relatively secure and functioning well.

'Our main problem is the Jordan route, where security is very bad,' says Atta. To deal with this, the MoT has created the Iraq-Jordan Land Transport Company in conjunction with an insurance firm, to ensure goods arrive safely from Jordan and trouble spots on a second Syrian border crossing. But the network still has a long way to go. Of the country's almost 40,000kilometres of road, 2,000 kilometres are motorways and only 2,000 kilometres of all roads are in excellent condition. The MoT, with the State Commission for Roads & Bridges (SCRB), a subsidiary of the Housing & Construction Ministry, is planning to build 9,000 kilometres of new roads, but when and how they will be financed has still to be resolved.

The rehabilitation of the railway system is gaining momentum. The country's railway network is made up of about 2,600 kilometres of track, with only 600 kilometres not operational. The sector is receiving considerable interest: as of mid-May, rail tenders made up 19 of the 25 active ones on the ministry website. 'Railways are running,' says IRMO's Burr. 'You do have a break in certain areas, such as Fallujah, but imports and exports are coming through Turkey and as far down as Hilla in the south with some running all the way down.'

The ministry is planning to add 2,300 kilometres of new track and is invit

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