Iraqis welcome closer ties with Saudi Arabia in face of Iranian influence
BAGHDAD - Many Iraqis said they were happy to see improvement of trade ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and hope strengthening relations between Baghdad and Riyadh would make Iraq less vulnerable to Iranian influence.
Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi led a delegation of some 100 businessmen and government officials during a 2-day visit to Baghdad, during which he announced that Riyadh would provide Iraq with $1 billion in loans, $500 million to boost exports and an offer to build a 100,000-seat sports stadium as a gift.
Qasabi inaugurated a new Saudi consulate in Baghdad, amid plans to open three other branches across Iraq.
“We have started a new phase in relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Qasabi. “There’s no doubt that this exchange, this discussion, is a two-way street that will strengthen these ties.”
Saudi Arabia cut ties with Baghdad after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. Diplomatic relations between the two countries resumed in 2015 but without consulate services. “Today, our brothers in Iraq can acquire a visa in Baghdad directly, without having to suffer a trip abroad,” said Qasabi.
Present at the consulate ceremony was Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Alhakim, who helped raise the Saudi flag over the building.
“This visit comes as a practical indication of enhancing communication between Baghdad and Riyadh and the keenness of the two brotherly countries to facilitate consular services and provide facilities to those wishing to visit the holy cities in the kingdom for pilgrimage and umrah, as well as visiting holy shrines in Iraq and facilitating the procedures of labour movement and trade exchange between the two countries,” read a statement posted on the website of the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi hailed the improvement of ties and announced he would soon visit Riyadh.
“We are pleased that relations are developing positively with the neighbour Saudi Arabia… We will go with a large delegation that includes officials and businessmen to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia within the next two weeks,” he said.
The warming of ties received welcome in the Iraqi street, particularly in Basra.
“I think it is a good step for Iraq to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia. It is a way to counter external influence,” said Basra resident Ahmed Ali, in an apparent reference to Iran.
Another Basra resident, Abdul Hameed Ali, was more straightforward, saying: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave Iraq a sports stadium with capacity of 100,000 spectators. Tell me, what has Iran offered to Iraq other than drugs, militias and paralysing the Iraqi economy?”
Mohammed Hamed al-Silawi, a university student in Basra, said: “The time of war is over. Iraq must be open to relations with the whole world, not just stick to the Iranian side.”
Hani al-Basri, a legal expert from Basra, said he supported the improvement of trade ties between Iraq and all countries and said he welcomed “Saudi investors to our city.”
Iraqis from other southern Shia-majority provinces welcomed the Saudi delegation’s visit.
“Relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will help Iraq in the economic and security sectors. This is what Iraq urgently needs nowadays,” said Kareem Majeed, a resident of Muthanna province.
Muneer Ahmed, from Nasiriyah province, said he hoped the visit “would help Iraq reclaims its sovereignty,” in a veiled dig at Iran.
Diyaa al-Hindi, a political activist from Karbala, said he hoped improving economic ties with Saudi Arabia would deprive Iraqi officials from giving excuses regarding Iraq’s trade and energy dependence on Iran. He added that, while the Saudi projects would help Iraqi markets and increase employment, Iran’s relationship with Iraq had exhausted the Iraqi economy.
“The Saudi delegation brought many projects to help Iraq recover economically. I hope these visits continue in more intensively until we will get rid of Iran’s influence,” said Hindi.
That view was shared by Saad Mohammed al-Dulaimi in the northern city of Mosul. “There is no comparison between a neighbour that sends you militias, like Iran, and a neighbour that sends you businessmen, like Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Iraqi analyst Mohammed al-Qaisy pointed out the Saudi delegation visit came while the United States is pressuring Iraq over its ties to Iran. “The United States wants to weaken the Iranian influence in the Abdul-Mahdi cabinet because Iran had a role in the formation of his government,” he said.