Closer Saudi-Iraqi ties as Abadi meets with King Salman

'Iraq feels the risk — it knows it cannot move forward without being a principal part of the Arab states,' Iraqi analyst Najm al-Qassab

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz (L) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in Riyadh, on October 22. (Saudi Press Agency)

2017/10/29 Issue: 129 Page: 2

The Arab Weekly
Mohammed Alkhereiji

London- Saudi efforts to return Iraq to the Arab fold appear to be yielding results. The two countries announced numerous measures to strengthen ties following their first Coordination Council meeting in Riyadh.

After the council’s launch Oc­tober 22, Iraq and Saudi Arabia said they agreed to open shared border crossings and resume full-time flights, and that Saudi Ara­bia would reopen its consulate as a part of its diplomatic mission in Iraq.

The event was hosted by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and attended by Iraqi Prime Minis­ter Haider al-Abadi and US Secre­tary of State Rex Tillerson.

“Our region is facing severe chal­lenges, such as extremism, terror­ism and attempts to disrupt the stability and security of our coun­tries,” King Salman said.

“This requires total coordina­tion, to confront these challenges,” he said, adding that it was a histor­ic opportunity to build an effective partnership.

Abadi said Iraq was “serious about cooperation” and “sincere in extending our hand.”

Both countries, which are look­ing to establish a joint trade zone on the border, reached an under­standing to “develop the partner­ship between the private sector in the two countries and to allow businessmen to identify trade and investment opportunities,” a joint statement said.

The council reiterated its com­mitment to restoring flights be­tween Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The first Saudi commercial plane in 27 years landed in Baghdad on Octo­ber 18.

Analysts said the announce­ments are part of Riyadh’s efforts to counter Iranian influence in Iraq. Many Gulf Arab countries view Tehran as a destabilising force in the region. The rapproche­ment efforts have been embraced by Washington and were viewed by the Trump administration as a positive step in curbing Iranian in­fluence in Iraq.

“We think this is an important milestone in restoring relation­ships between Iraq and the Gulf, the [Gulf Cooperation Council] GCC countries and Saudi Arabia that’s going to lead to very impor­tant economic development in Iraq as well,” Tillerson said.

“All for the good of the people of Iraq and strengthening the secu­rity and stability of the region,” he added.

In an interview on the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV, which em­phasised Riyadh’s motivations in seeking better ties with Iraq to dis­tance it from Tehran, Iraqi analyst Najm al-Qassab pointed to motiva­tions from the Iraqi side.

“After a near-total isolation in re­cent years… at the end of the day, Iraq feels the risk — it knows it can­not move forward without being a principal part of the Arab states,” he said.

Saudi-Iraqi relations deterio­rated after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Relations worsened follow­ing the 2003 war in which Saddam was removed from power. This resulted in empowering the coun­try’s Shia majority and the mar­ginalisation and persecution of Iraq’s Sunni minority. The gov­ernment in Baghdad maintained strong ties with Riyadh’s regional foe, Tehran.

Efforts by Saudi Arabia to re-en­gage Iraq started when Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a surprise visit in February to Bagh­dad, the first by a high-ranking Saudi official since 2003. In June, Abadi met with King Salman in Jeddah.

“The countries agreed to estab­lish a coordination council to up­grade relations to the hoped-for strategic level and open new ho­rizons for cooperation in different fields,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said at the time.

Jubeir, speaking October 24 at London’s Chatham House think-tank, said relations between the two countries are historic and re­flect their significant social, eco­nomic and geographical ties.

He added that Saudi Arabia’s interests in Iraq are to restore the country’s’ advancement, move it away from ethnic and sectarian conflicts and ensure a unified, sta­ble and secure country contrary to Iran’s expansionist designs, SPA reported.

The Coordination Council is to meet again in September.

Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.

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