When it was announced at the end of August that the Turaibil border crossing between Jordan and Iraq would reopen, there were celebrations. The border point, which facilitates trade between the two countries, was closed in late 2014 because the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, had taken control of the areas in Anbar province leading toward the crossing.
“Opening the Turaibil crossing is urgently needed,” Faleh al-Issawi, the deputy head of Anbar's provincial council, told NIQASH. “Other provinces are slowly becoming more stable and secure again and we too are working to restore our economy and our commercial facilities. The time has come for Anbar to go back to what it was before.”
This crossing won’t go back to normal unless all of the destroyed infrastructure is rebuilt and the international highway is fully secured.
Anbar sits between three countries – Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – and between four Iraqi provinces. Traders must cross Anbar and locals know they could be exploiting that business. The re-opening of Turaibil has them hoping they will be able to.
On the Jordanian side of the border, everything was apparently ready for Turaibil to re-open. But the Iraqis haven’t been so fast. Most bridges and rest stops on the way there have been destroyed in recent fighting in the province and some areas that the road passes through are still dangerous.
Al-Issawi explains that they have a plan for this. Trucks will be escorted by security forces once they cross into Iraq, right up until they reach another completely secure area. The truck drivers won’t pass through the cities of Ramadi or Fallujah, both of which had been under control of the IS group, before heading to Baghdad or southern and northern provinces directly.
Despite the council member’s optimism, there are still plenty of dangers on the road to and from Turaibil. Military on the road are frequently attacked by the IS group, who use the Anbar desert as a hiding place. They usually push the defeated extremists back but often not without loss of life and equipment.
The commercial traffic could form convoys and be escorted by security forces but it’s not a very practical solution, says the mayor of the Rutba district, Imad al-Dulaimi. Basically, this would mean that the Iraqi government has to spend money on the convoys – only the Jordanians would make a profit.
“This is not the way we want to re-open this border crossing,” al-Dulaimi insists. “This crossing won’t go back to normal unless all of the destroyed infrastructure is rebuilt and the international highway is fully secured.”
Most truck and car drivers believe that it is still too dangerous to use this road, al-Dulaimi continued. “And using other secondary roads [to get people past the security problems] is only going to cause traffic problems and increase the difficulties as well as risks for tour buses and truckers,” he told NIQASH.
The road connecting Turaibil with Baghdad is long – around 450 kilometres – and it lacks things like restaurants and rest stops, complains Nasser al-Fahdawai, an Anbar bus driver in his 40s. He believes that only scant commercial traffic will use the re-opened border crossing. Passenger vehicles will avoid it, he says, because everyone knows only too well that stretches of the highway are still under the control of the IS group.
“This decision to re-open the crossing is too hasty,” al-Fahdawi concludes. It may be of benefit to businesspeople who used to pay more to have their goods brought in by air but nobody is doing the drivers any favours, he notes.