By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has reportedly committed a grant of $1 billion to build a sports city in Iraq.

A high level Saudi delegation traveled to Baghdad on Wednesday for meetings with Iraqi officials on trade and investment.

(Sources: Arab News, Reuters)

Iraq on Monday began issuing entry visa for Iranians free of charge in a reciprocal move under a deal reached three weeks ago.

As of Monday, Iranians travelling to Iraq could obtain visa free of charge.

The Iraqi cabinet of ministers said the decision that took effect on April 1 has been made as a reciprocal move which had been agreed upon during Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent visit to Iraq.

After the conclusion of five agreements between Tehran and Baghdad on March 12, President Rouhani said the two Muslim neighbors have agreed to lift visa requirements for the citizens of both nations, including pilgrims and tourists.

“The Iraqi side currently prefers the visa regime, but there is no payment for a visa, which is a step forward in the process of facilitating the relations between the two nations,” the Iranian president has said in a landmark visit to Iraq.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi received a delegation from the Spanish Real Madrid Club March 21 to discuss joint sports projects in Iraq.

The delegation’s visit was welcomed by not only Iraq’s sports and political elites, but also by the Iraqi people, known for their love for soccer and their enthusiasm for La Liga, Spain’s professional soccer league.

Iraqis have set up a Real Madrid Football Fan Association in Iraq and last year, the Espanyol Football Club from Barcelona opened its own soccer academy in Baghdad with Iraqi coaches. The academy participated in this month’s youth Black Sea Cup in Russia.

Click here to read the full story.

By John Lee.

The General Company for Land Transport (GCLT) has held a meeting with its Saudi Arabian counterpart to discuss the opening of the Arar border crossing between the two countries.

According to a statement from Iraq’s Ministry of Transport, the participants stressed the importance of the new border facility for commercial trade and religious tourism.

A report this week from Asharq al-Awsat quotes the Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Customs Authority, Ahmed al-Hakbani, as saying that the new crossing will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and meet international standards, adding that he expected it to become “the top global crossing in terms of technology.”

(Sources: Iraqi Ministry of Transport, Asharq al-Awsat)

By John Lee.

Iraq’s National Investment Commission (NIC) has hosted a workshop on investing in the tourism sector and hotels business in Iraq.

The event was prepared in cooperation with the US Department of Commerce and the US Embassy in Baghdad, and was attended by the heads of the five-star hotels in Baghdad and other provinces.

NIC Chairman Dr. Sami Al-Araji emphasised the importance of the tourism sector for the GDP of any country and especially in Iraq, which has religious shrines and archeological sites.

(Source: NIC)

By John Lee.

Baghdad has again been ranked as the city with the world’s worst quality of living, according to the Mercer 2019 Quality of Living Survey.

Just ahead of it in the table of 231 cities are Bangui in the Central African Republic and Sana’a in Yemen.

Vienna again retains the top spot; Zurich and Vancouver follow in second and third places, respectively.

Mercer evaluates local living conditions according to 39 different factors.

More information here.

(Source: Mercer)

By John Lee.

A delegation from the Saudi Arabian government reportedly arrived in Baghdad on Saturday to discuss the construction of a 100,000-seater football stadium.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman promised last March to build a football stadium in Iraq.

According to some reports, it was later announced that Saudi Arabia would increase the number of seats to 135,000.

(Source: Xinhua, Al-Monitor)

By John Lee.

UAE-based Rotana Hotels has signed a hotel management agreement with Al Ibaa Company to operate a five-star property in Baghdad.

Effective 1 February 2019, Rotana will operate the city’s famed Babylon Hotel under its new brand name Babylon Rotana Baghdad.

With a prime location next to the high-security Green Zone, close to the banks of the famous Tigris River and just 30 minutes’ drive from Baghdad International Airport, Babylon Rotana will offer long and short-staying guests alike all the comfort required for a pleasant and memorable stay experience.

Boasting avant-garde architecture, the hotel features 284 spacious and modern rooms and suites with stunning views of Baghdad’s skyline and the majestic Tigris River. The hotel’s striking pyramid design and extensive gardens are truly fitting to the Babylonian heritage of the city.

Imad Al Yasri, Chairman, Al Ibaa Company, commented:

“It gives us immense pleasure to partner with Rotana to operate our five-star property in Baghdad, and we are excited about the planned upgrade and refurbishment of the hotel. We are confident that the partnership with Rotana will present a compelling value proposition for our guests, employees, and stakeholders, and further drive our business growth. We look forward to working closely with Rotana to enhance the overall performance of the hotel, thereby contributing to the development of a thriving hospitality market in the capital city.”

Commenting on the agreement, Guy Hutchinson, Acting CEO, Rotana, said:

“At Rotana, we are delighted to have made a strong start to the New Year with the signing of the agreement to operate the Babylon Rotana Baghdad. This new milestone is closely aligned with our vision to further deepen our footprint in the region and cement our leadership position in the hospitality sector.

As a result of its ambitious reconstruction efforts, Iraq has achieved tremendous progress in accelerating economic growth and development and improving the security environment in the country over the last few years. Likewise, the capital Baghdad has been experiencing a robust increase in the number of corporate and leisure travellers, thanks to its greater financial stability and rebounding tourism sector.

“With these prospects, the country is increasingly becoming an attractive market for hospitality investments. At Rotana, we will continue to seek new opportunities to further enhance our presence in this market.

Considered one of the city’s top dining destinations, the hotel’s offerings include five dining venues and a range of authentic regional and international cuisines, with both indoor and outdoor seating areas. To cater to the needs of corporate travellers, the hotel offers an extensive business centre, fully-equipped meeting rooms and event venues, and a ballroom that can host up to 600 guests.

The hotel also features a host of entertainment and leisure offerings, including tennis courts, Bodylines Fitness & Wellness Club, temperature controlled indoor and outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pools, and kids’ play facilities.

Babylon Rotana Baghdad will join the company’s three operating hotels in Iraq, including Erbil Rotana, Erbil Arjaan by Rotana, and Karbala Rayhaan by Rotana, bringing Rotana’s total inventory into 838 operating keys. In the fourth quarter of 2019, Rotana will open Slemani Rotana, Sulaymaniyah, adding 240 rooms to the country’s growing hospitality inventory.

(Source: Rotana)

By John Lee.

Docomo Digital, part of Japan’s NTT Docomo, has said it is launching a mobile gaming platform with Zain Iraq, giving more than 16 million subscribers the ability to access hundreds of titles using direct carrier billing on monthly phone bills.

Zain Games’ GamEmpire is a bundle of native and HTML5 games that can be streamed directly to mobile phones or tablets.

Docomo Digital and Zain, a leading mobile operator in the Middle East and Africa, signed the initial agreement in early 2018 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The partnership allows Zain’s 46.9 million customers to access mobile content from Docomo and have it billed monthly through the carrier.

Zain, which operates in eight countries in the region, has already launched the service in Saudi Arabia,  Kuwait and Jordan. Additional rollouts are scheduled for Bahrain and Lebanon over the next few months.

Hiroyuki Sato (pictured), Docomo Digital CEO, said:

Launching our games platform in Iraq marks yet another important milestone in our important partnership with the Zain Group, and our first such partnership in Iraq.

“We are committed to expanding our footprint across the Middle East and we hope to bring our latest suite of content and billing services to Zain’s subscribers across the region.”

(Source: Docomo Digital)