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U.S. Sees a Vital Iraqi Toll Road, but Iran Sees a Threat

Filtered through the prism of Iraq’s many media outlets that are linked to militias supported by Iran, the highway deal has become seen here as a conspiracy by the United States and Israel to occupy the country. One report claimed that the American security company involved in the highway “belongs to the Zionist Mossad.” A statement from one powerful militia invoked the Sykes-Picot accord, the World War I-era deal by colonial powers to divide the Middle East, as it called the highway a plot by the United States to divide Iraq.

Playing on painful memories and fears of Iraqis, news outlets have also run false reports that Blackwater — the private security firm that acted with impunity in the early days of the American occupation and gunned down innocent Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 — had taken on the project.

“The politics of this country are challenging,” said Christian Ronnow, executive vice president of Constellis, the parent company of Olive Group, a private security firm that has worked for years in Iraq.

Mr. Ronnow added, “We hope the Iraqi people and the Jordanian people will see this for what it is — an economic lifeline.”

In prosperous and safe times, the highway from Baghdad to Amman was an important conduit of commerce — with close to 1,500 trucks moving back and forth each day, accounting for about $ 1 billion in trade per month, Mr. Ronnow said. In dangerous times, as these recent years have been, the official border crossing with Jordan has been closed, even though truckers have continued to use the road, taking their lives into their own hands.

While the major cities in western Anbar Province, like Ramadi and Falluja, have been freed from the Islamic State, the surrounding deserts to the west on the way to Jordan and Syria remain dangerous and ungoverned spaces, where Islamic State militants are still able to move freely.

The project is expected to bring thousands of jobs in construction and security to beleaguered Anbar, and tribal leaders have lined up to support it.

“We are very happy with this project,” said Sheikh Ahmed Taha Alwan, an important tribal leader in Anbar. “There is big hope that this project will benefit the province in two important ways, security and economically.”

Source: NYT > World

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