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

Riyadh woos Iraqis with security talks, economic projects

Falih al-Fayadh, head of the Popular Mobilization Units and Iraq’s national security adviser, visited Saudi Arabia Jan. 31 in a sign of the new and improved ties between the two countries.

As Fayadh is close to Iran and widely viewed as a pro-Iran candidate for interior minister in the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, his visit aimed to reassure Riyadh that the PMU will target neither it nor its interests in Iraq.

A few days before Fayadh’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Riyadh renewed its support for Baghdad, especially in terms of security, in a Jan. 24 phone call between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abdul Mahdi.

In light of the tension prevailing over the region, the phone call emphasized Riyadh’s desire to make up for the past and create a positive relationship with Iraq.

Click here to read the full story.

By Omar al-Jaffal for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Saudi media group MBC announced in early February that it will launch a new TV channel — MBC Iraq — aimed at Iraqi viewers. Soon after the announcement, a number of angry responses emerged in the Iraqi media and among political figures, which led MBC to defend its plan.

The MBC group generally produces entertainment shows and social content, which will also be aired on MBC Iraq that is scheduled to launch on the evening of Feb. 17.

MBC’s television operations are funded by Saudi businessmen, many of whom are close to the Saudi royal family.

Click here to read the full story.

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 Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As the Gulf crisis continues with the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with no sign of a resolution, each country deems it necessary to seek a rapprochement with Iraq and win the country over to its own economic and political camps.

Each is trying to have Baghdad align with its axis, while Baghdad affirms its need for help from both countries to get rid of the destruction left by the Islamic State (IS) in the Sunni areas.

A Qatari delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Nov. 7, where he met with the Iraqi president, prime minister and parliament speaker to “discuss the ties between the two countries.”

Click here to read the full story.

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Kamal al-Ayash.

As Iraq Sanctions Iran Trade, Saudi Arabia Boosts Border Crossing

Opening the Arar border crossing on Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia could help locals economically. But analysts say it’s also about international influence.

“Work is underway to re-open Arar for commercial purposes before the upcoming Haj season in a manner that benefits both Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, the Saudi ambassador to Iraq. In a televised interview announcing that the border crossing is to be permanently opened, he said that the Iraqi and Saudi sides have agreed on everything required for the reopening of the crossing for commercial purposes.

This is not the first time that Saudi Arabia announced its approval for the reopening of the border crossing, and with every such announcement voices supporting normal relations with Saudi Arabia are heard. Local residents also say the border crossing opening will boost economic recovery in the area.

However, the issue of ownership of the border crossing remains a significant stumbling block: It is located within the borders of the Nukhayb district, approximately 300 kilometres southwest of Ramadi, which is in the Anbar province .

The Nukhayb district was created in 1960 and remained part of Anbar province’s Rutba district until 1978 when it was annexed to Karbala for 14 months. It was returned to the Anbar province in 1979 as a result of a crisis between the local population of the Nukhayb district and Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, a former President of Iraq, after which it became a separate district in 2016, following a vote by Anbar provincial council members.

The Arar crossing point is located on the Iraqi-Saudi border, 97 kilometres southwest of the Nukhayb district, and since 2003 has officially only opened during the pilgrimage season so that Iraqi pilgrims can travel to the holy site of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The border crossing has two routes; the first passes through the Karbala province and the second passes through the Anbar province.

The local government in the Anbar province highlights the success of its security and service operations every pilgrimage season, while at the same time stressing that this is done without financial allocations to the border crossing. It is also a way of confirming its ownership of the Nukhayb district and the Arar border crossing.

Taha Abdul Ghani, a member of the Anbar provincial council, told NIQASH that “no province other than Anbar has the right to administrate the Arar border crossing, as all documents prove that the Nukhayb district and Arar border crossing fall within the administrative borders of the Anbar province. Any other claim is a slander and a violation of Anbar’s rights.”

“Anbar province has administrated the Nukhayb sub district for 15 years. It allocated huge amounts of money to services and projects in the Nukhayb district in support of all sectors, as well as for logistical services to ensure the success of security plans and the travel of pilgrims through the Arar border crossing.”

In addition to its importance for commercial and tourism purposes, the Saudi-Iraqi border crossing is significant for various local and international political parties for political and security reasons. Observers and experts say that any developments related to the Nukhayb district tend to increase tensions and they stress that economic issues are not the only reasons.

“Controlling the Nukhayb district and the Arar border crossing from the Iraqi side has one specific reason,” retired military man, Mohammed Kartan explains. “Anbar wants to maintain the border crossing with its Sunni environment, specifically the Gulf, and Karbala and Najaf want to impose their control and influence to isolate Sunni elements from their support in the Gulf.

“Whoever controls the Jdaidet Arar border crossing and the Nukhayb district controls important transportation routes between Iraq and Syria that were created when the Islamic State group occupied most of the cities of the Anbar province. These routes were created in an attempt to find alternative ways to bring financial and logistical support to Syria without having to pass through extremist-occupied areas.”

The reopening of the border crossing could serve as an important outlet for Iraqi and Saudi trade, but it is a painful economic blow to Iranian trade, which heavily and directly depends on the Iraqi market.

Kareem al-Nouri, a leader of the popular crowd forces, told NIQASH that “if we assume good intentions on the part of Saudi Arabia, the decision to resume business permanently at the Arar border crossing is a good and useful decision which restores relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. However, we believe that the decision is of a political nature and its timing is not appropriate, especially with the US sanctions on Iran.”

“The opening of the border crossing, which is located in a sensitive and important city that is still categorised as a disputed area, could trigger a real crisis that may evolve into a conflict,” al-Nouri said. “Announcing the opening of the border crossing at this time is not a popular decision and it should be reconsidered.”

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

Will Riyadh-Tehran rivalry kill Iraqi Kurdistan’s investment drive?

Iraqi Kurdistan, facing an acute financial crisis, has a newfound opportunity to attract desperately needed foreign investment from Saudi Arabia, but regional tensions between Tehran and Riyadh could hamper its efforts.

A large Saudi trade delegation led by Sami Bin Abdullah al-Obeidi, chairperson of the Council of Saudi Chambers, and accompanied by the Saudi ambassador to Iraq and the consul general to Erbil, visited the Iraqi Kurdistan Region July 23-25, meeting with business leaders and government officials, including Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, to explore economic opportunities in the energy, agricultural, industry and tourism sectors.

Although no agreements were signed, the parties agreed to work toward expanding economic relations, as Saudi Arabia plans to establish a direct trade link from its Arar border crossing into Anbar province and on to the Kurdistan region.

Click here to read more.

By John Lee.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, Dr. Musab Sari al-Mudaris [Mussab Serri al-Mudaris] (pictured) has denied reports that he had told Bloomberg about an agreement to buy electricity from Saudi Arabia.

He said the statement from the news agency is incorrect.

Bloomberg had cited Mudaris as saying that Saudi Arabia agreed to build a 3,000-megawatt solar power plant in Saudi Arabia and sell the electricity to Iraq at $21 per megawatt-hour, a quarter of what it paid Iran for the imports.

Iran recently stopped supplying electricity to Iraq due “the accumulation of debts owed by Baghdad“.

(Source: Ministry of Electricity, Bloomberg)

KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani received a delegation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia including President of the Chambers of Commerce of Saudi Arabia Dr. Sami bin Abdullah Al-Obaidi, Saudi Ambassador to Iraq Abdulaziz al-Shammari, Saudi Consul General to the Kurdistan Region Mansour Faisal al-Otaibi and a number of officials and members of Saudi Chambers of Commerce.

Opportunities for investment in the Kurdistan Region and strengthening of economic and trade relations in various sectors were discussed. In particular, they highlighted areas of mutual interest in industry, agriculture and tourism.

The delegation expressed desire to encourage investment in the Kurdistan Region due particularly to the security and stability which prevail in the Region and its appropriate conditions for investment.

Starting direct flights between the Kurdistan Region and Saudi Arabia and the opening of a Saudi bank in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq were discussed as initial steps. They also agreed to hold a conference in the Kurdistan Region or in Saudi Arabia with the participation of investors and businessmen from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the Kurdistan Region. Establishing a joint committee to monitor progress on these initiatives was agreed.

Prime Minister Barzani expressed the KRG’s readiness to provide assistance and facilities for Saudi companies to invest in the Kurdistan Region and to promote and develop economic and trade relations between Iraq and the Kurdistan Region with Saudi Arabia.

Kurdistan Region Presidency Chief of Staff Dr. Fuad Hussein and a number of KRG officials also attended the meeting.

(Source: KRG)

By John Lee.

The Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) has announced that it will open a branch in Saudi Arabia.

Faisal Al Haimus, Chairman of TBI said:

“This important addition to our bank accomplishments shall strengthen trading and banking relationships between the two countries.”

(Source: TBI)