AFP: A cacophony of horns greeted Iran’s reopening on Monday of its border with northern Iraq as trucks rolled across again two weeks after Tehran shut its frontiers in protest at the US military seizure of an Iranian national. BASHMAKH, Iraq (AFP) A cacophony of horns greeted Iran’s reopening on Monday of its border with northern Iraq as trucks rolled across again two weeks after Tehran shut its frontiers in protest at the US military seizure of an Iranian national.
More than 400 queueing trucks, some stacked with goods, others empty, crossed at Bashmakh in the mountains north of the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah as merchants looked to make up for tens of thousands of dollars in lost trade.
“Bashmakh border point was open at 9 o’clock,” Rostum Kukai, a security guard told an AFP correspondent at the crossing, one of five crucial economic arteries leading from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region into Iran.
At Haj Umran, where hundreds of trucks loaded with goods pulled slowly one by one out of a long tail-back at the border, Jamal Hameed and his wife Haleema Mohammed were especially relieved after crossing back into Iraq.
“We planned to be in Iran for no more than 10 days, but we had to stay for 33 days, it was a surprising decision by Iran,” said Hameed, 60, who had made the trip for a medical check-up.
“I was compelled to sell my jewellery to survive in Iran after the border was closed, we had no other choice,” said his wife, 53.
According to Kurdistan trade minister Mohammed Raouf, the closure has cost the autonomous Kurdish region one million dollars a day in lost trade due to goods being held up at the border.
Omar Ali Arrif was heading back to Iran via Bashmakh with a convoy of 13 empty trucks to pick up the construction materials and tiles that he supplies to 10 stores in Sulaimaniyah and Arbil, the main city in Iraq’s Kurdish north.
“The closure of the borders for two weeks cost me more than 20,000 dollars. I have to pay for the transport vehicles and workers even if the frontier is not operational,” he said.
“I am happy today despite incurring this loss. I wish to see the borders opened for the benefit of both sides.”
Queues of trucks had formed at the border points from early Sunday after an announcement from Iran’s semi-official news agency Fars that the crossings would reopen that day.
But by late afternoon many traders had given up hope of crossing until Monday and most of the trucks had dispersed.
Some though were so desperate to make up for the lost time and money that they waited overnight at the frontier to be the first to cross on Monday.
“I was waiting since yesterday morning to see the borders open,” said Ahmed Sharif, a 25-year-old truck driver who imports vegetables and fruit from Iran to Sulaimaniyah.
Iran closed the borders on September 24 following the seizure of Iranian Mahmoud Farhadi by US forces.
The US military claims he is an officer of the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards which is accused by American commanders of helping Shiite militias involved in Iraq’s bloody sectarian conflict.
But both Iran and the Kurdish regional government say Farhadi is a businessman who was part of a commercial delegation invited to visit Sulaimaniyah.
The opening of the border came after the top US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, stepped up accusations against Tehran of fomenting Iraqi unrest.
He accused Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad on Sunday of being a member of the Quds Force. The charge was dismissed by Iran’s foreign ministry.
“Americans always arrest or kill some people and link them somehow to the Quds Army,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in Tehran.
The US military says it is holding six Quds Force members arrested in Iraq’s Kurdish region in the north, five of them in a swoop by US forces in January on a building earmarked for an Iranian consulate in Arbil.
Farhadi was the sixth Iranian to be held, seized on September 20 at a hotel in Sulaimaniyah — the act that prompted Tehran to close its border.