Iraq: Border with Jordan to open soon, after year of closure
AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Iraq’s border crossing with Jordan is expected to open in about two weeks, after an almost year-long closure, allowing for a resumption of vital trade and a return of Iraqi refugees, an Iraqi diplomat said Saturday.
Iraq had closed the crossing in July because large areas of the border province of Anbar had fallen to Islamic State extremists. But since its rapid expansion in 2014, IS has lost territory in Anbar in recent months, most recently the town of Rutba.
The capture of Rutba by the Iraqi army this week cleared the way for reopening the Trebil crossing, but security forces need time to clear explosives planted by the extremists, said the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, Safia al-Souhail.
Rutba is located about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the border, on the Jordan-Iraq trade route that links Amman and Baghdad, the respective capitals of the two countries.
“We are expecting the opening of the borders in no longer than two weeks’ time,” the ambassador said. “It might be less, it might be a little bit more, but this is the time frame that we have been informed about.”
In closing the border last year, Iraq said it wanted to deprive IS militants of taxes they impose on cargo trucks driving through the area.
The closure dealt a blow to Jordan, with exports to Iraq dropping from $1.16 billion in 2014 to $690 million in 2015. Pro-Western Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military coalition against IS, which still controls large areas of both Syria and Iraq.
“We hope that the crossing will open sooner than later, because it is of crucial benefit to both Iraq and Jordan,” said Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed Momani.
Still, it is unclear if opening the crossing will automatically lead to the resumption of land trade.
The Iraq military may not be able to secure the long desert highway from IS counterattacks that could discourage truck drivers and business people who once used the route. The vast deserts on the fringes of Anbar province, traditionally used by smugglers, were out of government control for years, even before the IS takeover of some of the territory.
In Saturday’s announcement, the Iraqi ambassador said she also hopes an opening of the border will bring back large numbers of Iraqis from Anbar who sought refuge in Jordan after the initial IS land grabs.
However, booby-traps set by the extremists might slow any return. In Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, several dozen returnees were killed by such explosives after the Iraqi army retook the city.
Associated Press writer Susannah George in Baghdad contributed to this report.