Iraq hopes to complete its first railway link with neighboring Iran within 18 months, largely to help facilitate the transport of millions of pilgrims that visit Shia Muslim shrines in Iraq each year, a senior Iraqi official said on Tuesday.

Iran PressWest Asia: The roughly 30-kilometer line will run between Iraq's southern city of Basra and the Iranian border town of Shalamcheh.

"We should see the trains moving in about 18 months because it's a small distance," Nasser Al-Asadi, transport advisor to the Iraqi prime minister, told Reuters.

He added the Iraqi government also planned a metro link between Karbala and Najaf cities.

Asadi said work was underway to clear the area before groundwork could begin on the rail link.

Regularly, the world's largest annual religious gathering of up to 20 million mostly Shia Muslims takes part in the 'Arbaeen' pilgrimage to Iraq's holy city of Karbala to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (AS).

Many pilgrims walk hundreds of kilometers from the Iran-Iraq border to Karbala or drive there in cars and buses.

Asadi said the rail link would reduce the risk of road accidents and allow Iraq to benefit financially from ticket sales.

The projects are part of major transport-sector development planned by the government, including an overhaul of Baghdad's international airport and a 1,200-kilometre rail, road, and services project from a major commodities port in the south to its border with Turkey.


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