Saudi Arabia is trying to strengthen its position in Iraq after years of Iranian control over state institutions through a heavy economic presence based on bilateral relations and agreements.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi criticised Tuesday internal forces loyal to Iran, without naming them. He accused these force of hindering Iraq’s rapprochement with foreign countries, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with whom Iraq has signed recently signed cooperation agreement.
“There are campaigns to question every Iraqi rapprochement with any country. These campaigns are generally accompanied by rumours aimed at confusing the situation and disrupting any understanding that is in the interest of the country,” Kadhimi said after Iraq recently signed agreements with Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Kadhimi explained that “Iraq should become an attractive environment for investment, because we really need investments and opportunities for work and reconstruction.”
In recent days, pro-Iran Iraqi forces and militias launched a violent attack on the country’s economic and political understandings with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, warning the government against allowing Riyadh to invest in large areas inside the country for reasons it said were related to security, sovereignty and the economy.
The State of Law coalition led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia led by Qais Khazali and representatives loyal to Iran called on official authorities to stop granting Saudi Arabia lands to invest in the Badia of Iraq in the governorates of Karbala and Najaf al-Muthanna, claiming it was a form of “colonialism and not investment.”
A Saudi-Iraqi meeting was held Tuesday evening via video conference, bringing together Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Iraqi premier.
A number of understandings reached with Riyadh in various sectors, including security and the economy, were announced during the virtual meeting.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia stressed “the necessity of enhancing bilateral cooperation to serve the interest of the two countries and their peoples in various fields, in particular the political, security, commercial, investment and tourism, and construction areas,” said a joint statement posted on the Iraqi foreign ministry’s website.
During the meeting, the two leaders made the comments to review the outcome of the fourth session of the Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council, which includes eight committees, among which are the committees of Energy and Transformational Industries, Political, Security, Military, Economic Investment, and Transportation, the joint statement said.
The two sides also emphasised “the importance of working together in the energy sector through an exchange of experiences and within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by fully committing to all decisions designed to guarantee fair oil prices for the global market.”
A ministerial committee emanating from OPEC+ — members of the OPEC and 10 non-OPEC partner countries– will meet on November 30, and early December, to decide on production policies.
In April, OPEC+ reached a historic agreement to apply cuts in oil production amounting to 9.7 million barrels per day, with the aim of rebalancing crude prices in global markets.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Iraq reiterated an invitation for Saudi companies to invest in Iraq. Iraq also said that it appreciates a number of recent Saudi initiatives, including a pledge to help reconstruction efforts, provide assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and construct a sports stadium as a gift from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to the Iraqi people.
The two sides agreed to continue cooperation “in facing the threat of extremism and terrorism as an existential threat to the countries of the region and the world,” adding that Saudi Arabia would continue its support to “Iraq’s efforts in cooperation with the international coalition to combat terrorism and extremism.”
Iraq and Saudi Arabia also exchanged views over regional and international issues to support security and stability in the region and the world, while asserting “the need to keep the region away from tensions and seek to establish sustainable security,” the statement said.
The statement indicated that both sides had agreed to “enhance coordination in the field of mutual support within the framework of multilateral diplomacy, especially for positions and jobs in international organisations.”
They also agreed on ways to benefit from the outcomes of the Kuwait Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq, which was held from 12 to 14 February 2018, regarding the promises and financial credit facilities launched by Saudi Arabia.
In a related context, and via a video call, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Iraqi counterpart Fouad Hussein, as part of the work of the fourth session of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council and its Political, Security and Military Committee.
The meeting highlighted continued cooperation and coordination in political, security and military fields through the appointment of military attachés in both countries for training and the establishment of joint military exercises to develop capabilities and exchange experiences, as well as strengthening security and intelligence cooperation to help combat crime and smuggling.
The two parties agreed to develop a plan to accelerate the opening of the Arar border crossing, to provide support for the work of the Saudi commercial attache in Baghdad and to facilitate procedures for granting entry visas to businessmen in both countries.
The Arar border crossing is the only crossing that connects the two countries. In recent years, it has only been open to Iraqi pilgrims, with ordinary travellers and the transport of goods being banned.
On Sunday, a Saudi delegation that included officials from the energy, electricity, oil, industry and environment ministries and a number of investment companies arrived in the Iraqi capital Baghdad to attend the meeting of the Iraqi-Saudi Political, Security and Military Committee.
Saudi Arabia resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq in December 2015 after 25 years of hiatus triggered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
After decades of tension, relations began to improve following the visit of the kingdom’s then Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to Baghdad in February 2017 — the first visit by a senior Saudi official to the Iraqi capital.
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