At independence, Iraq had little port capacity, a fact that reflected the low level of foreign trade and the country's traditional overland orientation toward Syria and Turkey rather than toward the Gulf. Since then, the Gulf port of Basra has been expanded many times, and a newer port was built at Umm Qasr to relieve pressure on Basra. Oil terminals were located at Khawr al Amayah, and Mina al Bakr, Al Faw, and a port was built in tandem with an industrial center at Khawr az Zubayr. Because Iraq's access to the Gulf was an Iranian target in the Iran-Iraq War, port activities were curtailed severely in the 1980s. Before shipping can be resumed after the war, the Shatt al Arab will have to be cleared of explosives and wreckage, which will take years.
Despite long-standing government interest in developing the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers into major arteries for inland transport, little had been accomplished by the late 1980s, primarily because of the massive scale of such a project. Dredging and the establishment of navigation channels had been completed on several stretches of the Tigris south of Baghdad, and in 1987 a river freight route using barges was opened between Baghdad and Al Amarah. Iraq investigated the possibility of opening the entire Tigris River between Mosul and Baghdad, as well as the feasibility of opening a stretch of the Euphrates between Al Hadithah and Al Qurnah, but lack of funds precluded further action.
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