Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Disputed waterway between Iran and Iraq reopens

Commercial traffic has resumed on the Shatt al-Arab waterway between Iraq and Iran for the first time in 30 years, reflecting decreased tensions over the disputed marine boundary between the countries.

The reopening of the waterway, which runs for 120 miles down from the Gulf, follows the opening of a new jetty by Shell designed to support operations at the Majnoon oilfield on the border with Iran. The new facility is situated about 50 miles up the Shatt al-Arab: ships travelling there must first pay customs duties at the port of Umm Qasr on the edge of the Gulf.

Although there are other small harbour facilities down the course of the Shatt al-Arab, the Shell facility is the first major facility to be established there since the Iran-Iraq war interrupted southern Iraq’s oil operations in 1980. The war began in part due to a dispute over the border line through the Shatt-al Arab, which provides vital access to the Gulf.

The opening of the port suggests that the boundary dispute over the waterway, although not settled, is not proving an impediment to commercial activity there. Most of the remaining sections of the border have been agreed, and in late 2010 the Iraqi government said that the demarcation of the Shatt al-Arab line would begin under the auspices of the UN.

It seems that the process of demarcation is still underway. Nonetheless it seems that Iran is willing to accept – at least for now – some common usage of the waterway. This illustrates the warming political ties between Baghdad and Tehran and their willingness to move onwards from the disputes of the past.

Sources: AFP, France 24

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