Baghdad to Berlin

It may not be the romantic route from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express, but the new railway service between Turkey and Iraq is an adventurer's dream.

It may not be the romantic route from Paris to Istanbul on the Orient Express, but the new railway service between Turkey and Iraq is an adventurer's dream. Launched last Tuesday, the 500 kilometre route marks the final connection between a Berlin-to-Baghdad railway that was begun at the beginning of the 20th century but abandoned as an anti-colonial backlash disrupted construction. Passengers start the journey in the northern city of Mosul in Iraq, travel along the border of Syria and land in the southern town of Gaziantep in Turkey. From there, they can board a connecting train that travels up through Europe and into Germany.
Those looking for Iraq's answer to the TGV will be disappointed, however. The trip takes 18 hours. But the railway represents a new era of co-operation among a triumvirate of states that have not always enjoyed good relations. Free trade agreements, joint military exercises and relaxed border regulations were only initiated in recent years between Turkey, Syria and Iraq, whose relations had become further strained by the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In particular, improved relations between Turkey and the Kurds in its own country and in Iraq have paved the way for this railway to operate.
For those nostalgically drawn to the grandeur of Mesopotamia's past, an interconnected railway system may fall short of restoring the ancient abundance and prosperity of the region. But for "the land between rivers" whose neighbourly goodwill had all but dried up over the past 30 years, it's a start on the right track.

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