Regional balance sought in Iraqi speaker’s visit to Saudi Arabia

Iraqi and international experts estimate the cost for needed reconstruction at $88.2 billion over ten years.
Wednesday 19/12/2018
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives Mohamed al-Halbousi at Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on December 17. (Saudi Press Agency)
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) meets with Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives Mohamed al-Halbousi at Yamamah Palace in Riyadh on December 17. (Saudi Press Agency)

LONDON - Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has renewed his country’s support for Iraq, hoping that it will regain its rightful position in the region after the military victory over the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Saudi monarch’s declaration came during Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbusi’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which began on December 16. Political sources in Baghdad said Halbusi had held intensive consultations with several Iraqi political leaders regarding issues to be discussed in Riyadh.

The same sources said “Halbusi’s consultations (in Iraq) also included meetings with Sunni leaders and addressed, in particular, the file of reconstruction of cities liberated from Daesh,” an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

The sources pointed out that “Sunni leaders asked al-Halbusi to impress on Riyadh the great need in the liberated areas for services, reconstruction and investment.”

A member of the delegation accompanying al-Halbusi said the “the speaker of the Iraqi parliament visited Saudi Arabia in response to an official invitation, the details of which he had shared with Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and President Barham Salih.” When asked about the coordination between the three presidents before the visit, the delegation member said: “The visit was official and has not been opposed by either Abdul-Mahdi or Salih.”

The Iraqi politician explained that “Riyadh has been dealing with al-Halbusi through official channels since his inauguration as speaker of the parliament in the framework of its efforts to strengthen relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.”

Al-Halbusi is considered one of Iraq’s rising Sunni political leaders and has managed to reach the helm of the parliament through a coalition with Shia political leaders known for their close proximity to Iran.

Members of what is called the  “Construction Coalition” in the Iraqi parliament, which includes Sunni and Shia forces known to be close to Iran, did not comment on Halbusi’s visit to Riyadh.

However, political sources close to this alliance said “the Construction Coalition, led by Hadi al-Amiri, understands the nature of the political commitments governing the actions of the Sunni parties under its banner,” in an obvious reference to the need of these parties to be in permanent contact with the Arab environment. The sources indicated that “the official character of the visit stops all possible political interpretations for it.”

Prominent figures in the Construction Coalition do not hide their satisfaction in not supporting Abadi for a second term as prime minister. Iran was behind this move as it has long considered Abadi part of the American axis and did not appreciate his orientation, while he was prime minister, towards balancing Iraq’s regional relations by restoring openness on Iraq’s Arab environment, especially on Saudi Arabia.

Despite that, the Badr Organisation, led by al-Amiri and which is described as spearheading the pro-Iranian coalition, has consistently pointed out Iraq’s need for a stable relationship with Saudi Arabia governed by bilateral interests.

Al-Halbusi’s meeting with King Salman at Al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh reviewed “the fraternal relations between both countries and the prospects for bilateral cooperation between the Shura Council and the Iraqi Council of Representatives,” a statement said. Halbusi’s office added that “the meeting discussed bilateral relations and ways of enhancing them so as to guarantee the interests of the two brotherly peoples. It also reviewed the latest developments in the local and regional arenas.”

During the meeting, al-Halbusi imparted to the Saudi monarch Iraq’s keenness on “enhancing its relationship with its Arab and regional environments through joint coordination and at all levels, especially at the economic and investment levels, and on boosting bilateral trade, and on opening the border crossings and improving them.” He also insisted on “the importance of giving a role to brotherly countries in Iraq’s reconstruction, especially to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, given its capacities and expertise that will contribute to the rehabilitation of many cities damaged by terrorism or those that lack services and infrastructure,” the statement said.

According to a study commissioned by the Iraqi government, Iraqi and international experts estimate the cost for needed reconstruction at $88.2 billion over ten years.

Infrastructure in Iraq’s northern and western provinces has been badly damaged by three years of fighting between government forces and ISIS, which had seized control of a third of the country’s territory since mid-2014.

The Iraqi speaker thanked King Salman for the initiatives taken by the kingdom to rehabilitate the Arar border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, build a stadium in Baghdad and earmark funds for Iraq’s reconstruction as announced at the Kuwait Conference.

Al-Halbusi stressed the need for Iraq to be open with its Arab brothers and to strengthen its relations with all parties in order to solve issues of common concern. He also underlined the need to coordinate Arab efforts to overcome differences and problems through constructive dialogue and avoid an escalation that negatively affects the security and stability of the region, praising at the same time the role of Riyadh in supporting Iraq.