Shafaq News / A recently published report by Azer News suggested that the Iraqi-Turkish "Development Road" and the railway connection between Iraq and Iran are of huge importance to Azerbaijan.
The report said that the official visit of Iraqi President Abdullatif Jamal Rashid to Azerbaijan foreshadows soaring economic cooperation between the two countries in the near future. The two countries have great potential to cooperate, but due to the invasion and instability following the invasion in Iraq, this potential has not been able to turn into reality.
When Azerbaijani gas projects were launched, the media outlets spoke about the possibility of Iraq joining the project to export its natural gas to Europe. Besides, Iraq could be an alternative for Azerbaijan to access the Persian Gulf as well. Prior to COVID-19, Baku was a desirable destination for Iraqi tourists. Even some companies from both countries tried to conduct trade before the emergence of ISIS.
Despite all attempts, these two fraternal countries have not been able to form desirable economic relations due to regional conflicts in the Middle East, where Iraq is located, or global instability such as COVID-19. Last year, the trade turnover between the two countries amounted to $29m which is too little in comparison with the potential of both countries. Azerbaijan exported products worth $28m and imported products from Iraq worth $0.5m. So, it is hoped that this official visit will mark a new page in the relationship between the two fraternal countries. For the further strengthening of bilateral relations, both countries signed MOUs and agreements in different fields to boost political, economic, trade, and tourism cooperation.
The Azerbaijani Minister of Labour and Social Protection of Population, Sahil Babayev, and the Iraqi Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Ahmed Al-Asadi, signed a MOU on cooperation between the two ministries.
The Chairman of the State Tourism Agency of Azerbaijan, Fuad Naghiyev, and the Chairman of the Tourism Authority of Iraq, Zafer Mahdi, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the field of tourism between the two countries.
The Azerbaijan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jeyhun Bayramov, and the Iraqi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammed Bahr Al-Uloom, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on political consultations between the two sides.
The Azerbaijan Minister of Digital Development and Transport, Rashad Nabiyev, and the President of the Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA), Imad Al-Asadi, signed an air services agreement between the two governments. So the signing of these meaningful MOUs would be the first step towards greater socio-economic cooperation and trans-regional connectivity, creating beneficial dividends for both countries.
In a comment to Azernews on the issue, Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan noted that it seems that due to rapidly changing socio-economic partnerships, conflicting geopolitical realities, and contradictory geostrategic preferences, Azerbaijan, under the leadership of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, has initiated regional and trans-regional grand economic diplomacy to further diversify the potential of the macro-economy, energy and food security, and volumes of bilateral exports with Iraq, which has now become an ideal hub of trans-regional connectivity.
“In this connection, Iraq’s trans-regional development project and Iran-Iraq railway connectivity would be mutually beneficial, even for Azerbaijan, which has the status of a Middle Corridor. The bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iraq are gaining momentum, which vividly reflects befitting propositions for both countries."
Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan reminded that in the near past, Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev and his Iraqi counterpart Abdullatif Jamal Rashid met and discussed relations between the two countries and ways to develop them in all fields. He added that during the meeting, President Ilham Aliyev termed Rashid's visit an opportunity to discuss strengthening bilateral relations and an affirmation of the two countries' desire to advance their political and economic relations to new levels.
“The Iraqi President, who desired to expand the prospects of cooperation in the economic, investment, tourism, and energy fields, rightly emphasised the need to encourage businessmen to make investments. Thus, tourism, economics, culture, education, real estate, energy, food, and people-to-people contact would be mutually beneficial for both countries. To attract more and more FDIs, Iraq’s government is ready to protect and provide security and stability, the provision of services to the people, the protection of infrastructure, and raise the economic and investment levels to improve the living standards of citizens,” he said.
Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan added that the meeting of the Joint Commission on trade-economic, scientific-technical, and cultural cooperation between Azerbaijan and Iraq has now further strengthened bilateral relations in diverse sectors of the economy, investment, infrastructure, energy and food, science and technology, and smart living. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said that a meeting of the Joint Commission on trade-economic, scientific-technical, and cultural cooperation will be held in Iraq in the near future, which will play an important role in the further expansion of trade-economic ties.
“On the other hand, the Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fuad Hussein, met with the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, on the sidelines of his participation in the ministerial meetings of the Non-Aligned Movement held in Baku from July 5–6, 2023. Both sides stressed the importance of enhancing trade exchange and cooperation in various fields, including the railway, aviation, and tourism. President Aliyev instructed the Ministry of Transport to resume operating air flights between Iraq and Azerbaijan for tourist purposes, stressing the desire of the Azerbaijani government to strengthen relations between the two countries.
Hopefully, increasing bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Iraq would be a balancing act to promote peace, prosperity, stability, and economic sustainability in the region. It would also further strengthen the alternative route strategy of Azerbaijan to connect with greater Gulf and Middle East countries in the days to come,” Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan concluded.
For more than 30 years, Azerbaijan has had no land connection with Nakhchivan, the biggest exclave of Azerbaijan in its south-west. The territory blockaded by Armenia has been supplied with energy through Iran for a long time, and at the same time, travel was possible only by air.
In Soviet times, two railway connections used to link Nakhchivan ASSR (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic) with the main territory of Azerbaijan SSR. The shorter line that passed via the Zangazur region was built earlier, in 1941, whereas the Yerevan-Ijevan-Qazax line further to the north was constructed in the 1980s as an alternative route, connecting Yerevan to Baku and Russia. However, both lines have been abandoned since 1992 due to the First Garabagh War.
According to American pundit and political analyst Peter Tase, having Nakhchivan without any land connection and Armenia's holding the Azerbaijani territory under blockage is inadmissible.
"It is impossible for any nation to wait infinitely in order to have a land connection and transportation corridor with its prosperous enclave. The Republic of Azerbaijan has pursued a deeply purposeful diplomacy, and the White House and European Union have repeatedly ignored Baku’s very legitimate request to achieve this corridor that will tremendously benefit the economic integration of Eurasian nations," Tase said.
He also strongly condemned the US state administration's cold-blooded approach to Azerbaijan's recent regional problems as well as its support for Armenian separatism.
"Washington has missed the opportunity to play an impartial role in securing a peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia; above all, the current administration is harming with its incomprehensible rhetoric against the current state of security that has been achieved with many sacrifices by the People of Azerbaijan and its thriving government in Baku," the pundit added.
The American political analyst touched upon the softening of diplomatic relations between Baku and Tehran in recent days and noted that such a development of the process is considered more favourable for the region. He also considered it inadequate that the United States was against this issue.
"Normalisation of relations between Baku and Teheran should have been welcomed by the US State Department, knowing that the very same office allocated, enabled billions of US dollars to benefit the Iranian government. Going against the Baku-Teheran normalisation is inappropriate and very unsuitable for Washington," he stressed.
In addition, Peter Tase criticised US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs James O'Brien's action that was aimed at harming Azerbaijan and Turkiye's relations with Europe. It is sad in the truest sense of the word that the US diplomat did it under the dictates of the Armenian lobby, ignoring the fact that Azerbaijan and Turkiye are the most important and inseparable allies for Europe. Besides, Azerbaijan has been a strategic ally of the United States in the South Caucasus since its independence.
"Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs O’Brien is doing everything possible to damage the culture of pragmatic bilateral alliances between Washington and viable European partners, among them Azerbaijan and Türkiye.
Mr. O’Brien and members of US Congress, blindly defending Armenian aggressive revanchism, do not understand that we are living in Cold War II, at a time when rule of law is descending, technological complexities are prevailing globally, and PR China is emerging with its currency as a reserve currency status; these are only a few of the strategic matters that Washington cannot contain and address without building momentum together with allies such as Azerbaijan, Türkiye and the Organisation of Turkic States," the pundit concluded.