Saudi Arabia


As Iraq Sanctions Iran Trade, Saudi Arabia Boosts Border Crossing

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.”

Will Riyadh-Tehran Rivalry kill Kurdistan Investment Drive?

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.

Electricity Ministry Denies Saudi Solar Power Deal

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)

Prime Minister Barzani receives Saudi Delegation

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)

Video: Will Iran-US Tensions threaten Iraq’s Stability?

From Al Jazeera. Any opinions expressed are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

It’s been three weeks since the parliamentary election in Iraq and many Iraqis voted for a nationalist party opposed to foreign interference.

But both Riyadh and Washington want an Iraq that is sympathetic to their interests and pro-Iran militias were instrumental in defeating ISIL.

Worries in Iraq are increasing that tension between Iran and the US, along with its Saudi ally, could undermine stability in the country.

Al Jazeera’s Osama Bin Javaid from Baghdad, Iraq:

Can Sadr swing Nonsectarian Government?

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

After the Sairoon (On the Move) Alliance emerged victorious in the May 12 Iraqi elections, its leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, has been seeking meetings with the leaders of the other top-vote-getting alliances to discuss the possibility of forming the largest bloc in the new parliament and ultimately form the new Cabinet.

At a May 19 joint press conference after talks with Sadr, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whose Al-Nasr (Victory) Alliance came in third, said, “During our meeting, we agreed to work together and with other parties to expedite the process of forming a new Iraqi government.”

A few days later, on May 22, Al-Nasr spokesman Hussein al-Adeli said Abadi had reached an agreement with Sadr on a map for forming a new government. Abadi himself, in his weekly press conference the same day, said his coalition was close to reaching an understanding with the Sairoon Alliance “to form a strong technocratic government.”

In a May 20 meeting with Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the second-place Fatah Alliance, consisting of the political wings of the pro-Iran militias of the Popular Mobilization Units, Sadr had said, “The process of government formation must be a national decision, and importantly, must include the participation of all the winning blocs along a national path.”

Sadr appeared to select the phrasing “national decision” and “national path” especially for Amiri, who had days earlier met in Baghdad with Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, in an attempt to form a pro-Iranian parliamentary bloc.

Sadr also held talks with Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Hikma Alliance, on May 21 and spoke of the importance of forming the upcoming government in a way that ensures “fixing the path of the political process to suit the aspirations of the Iraqi people who reject sectarianism and corruption.”

Sadr also met May 21 with Iyad al-Allawi, leader of the predominantly Sunni Al-Wataniyah Alliance, and two days earlier had received a letter from Kosrat Rasoul Ali, first deputy for the secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, in line with discussions on potential alliances requiring Sunni and Kurdish participation alongside the Shiite majority to form a government.

After failing to assemble a parliamentary bloc under Iranian auspices consisting of the four largest Shiite lists — the State of Law Coalition and the Al-Nasr, Hikma and Fatah Alliances — Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi attempted to lure Sadr to his side to prevent the formation of an anti-Iran government. Masjedi told Iran’s Al-Alam TV May 21, “Iran has constructive relations with all parties, blocs and coalitions that won the majority of parliamentary seats in the fourth elections.”

Masjedi also denied rumors of a dispute between the Iranian leadership and Sadr, saying, “Iran’s relations with Sadr are historical and deep-seated. The country had close relations with the martyrs Mohammed Baqr and Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr [Muqtada’s uncle and father, respectively].” Masjedi added, “Iranian officials’ relations with Sadr are friendly and brotherly, and many of them, including Soleimani, appreciate Sadr greatly.”

In fact, Sadr’s father and Iranian officials were not friendly at all. His representative in Iran, Jaafar al-Sadr, son of Mohammad Baqr, was arrested and his office shuttered in Qom in 1998. In addition, everything indicates that relations between Muqtada and Iran have gone downhill as well in recent years.

Sadr had made several statements critical of Iranian interference in Iraqi decision-making, and his alliance competed against the pro-Iran lists — Al-Fatah and the State of Law Coalition — in the elections. In the preceding years, Sadr’s supporters chanted slogans against Iran at protests calling for reform. Sadr, unlike his rivals Maliki and Amiri, has not met with Soleimani in recent years.

Sadr greeted a group of ambassadors from neighboring countries May 19 after his list’s victory was confirmed. In attendance were the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Turkey and Syria. Official Iranian websites, including Al-Alam’s, criticized Sadr’s relations with Saudi Arabia and charged that Riyadh had been behind Iran’s exclusion from the meeting.

Sadr insists that the largest parliamentary bloc include all Iraqi components, which would be unprecedented if successful. The largest parliamentary bloc has always consisted solely of Shiite parties, which then negotiated with Kurdish and Sunni blocs over forming the government.

On May 21, Sadr tweeted, “I am Muqtada. I am Shiite, Sunni, Christian, Saebean, Yazidi, Islamist, civil, Arab, Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkmen, Chaldean and Shabak. I am Iraqi. Do not expect me to side with any sect against the other to renew enmities and lead to our demise. We are headed toward a comprehensive Iraqi alliance.”

Al-Hayat newspaper on May 21 cited Iraqi sources close to Sadr discussing efforts to bring together Abadi, Allawi, Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barzani and Sunni Al-Qarar Alliance leader Khamis al-Khanjar to explore forming the leading parliamentary bloc with all their parties’ participation. If Sadr succeeds, Iraq might overcome sectarian quotas in forming a government, and Iranian influence would dwindle with its political allies, Al-Fatah and the State of Law Coalition, excluded from the bloc.

Saudi Food Company to enter Iraqi Market

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabian food producer Goody has signed an agreement to become the first Saudi food firm to supply the Iraqi market in nearly 30 years.

The Jeddah-based company plans to supply pasta, dates, chilled coffee, burgers, tuna and canned fruits to Iraq.

It is part of the Basamh Trading and Industries Group.

(Source: Goody)

Saudi Arabia eyes Anbar for Potential Investments

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

Saudi Arabia is considering investing in 2.5 million acres of agricultural land in Iraq’s western province of Anbar, which has suffered both economically and otherwise after the bitter war to regain control of the province from the Islamic State. If such an investment is made, it would be facilitated by the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council, which was formed in October.

The Iraqi Ministry of Commerce announced the potential investment in a brief statement to the press April 4, but did not disclose any further details on the matter.

Iraqi-Saudi relations have remarkably improved since mid-2017, particularly after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited Riyadh in October. During that visit, an announcement was made on establishing the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council, in the presence of Abadi, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The council aims to develop economic relations at all levels between Iraq and Saudi Arabia after nearly three decades of estrangement. It also seeks to open land borders, encourage investments, review the customs cooperation agreement and study the establishment of a trade zone.

The Ministry of Commerce’s media office declined to provide Al-Monitor with any details on the potential Saudi investment in Anbar.

However, Yahya al-Mohammadi, a member of the Anbar provincial council, told Al-Monitor that officials in Anbar were indeed in contact with the Saudi Embassy in Baghdad, adding, “Provincial officials have noticed a Saudi desire to broadly invest in Anbar.”

Meanwhile, Salman al-Ansari, chairman of the Washington-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor that the investment project in Anbar “will be launched soon.”

A Iraqi political source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity about the nature of the investment project in Anbar, its economic feasibility, and all related security and political aspects.

The source said the prospective investment will largely be “in the area of Nukhayb, which lies on the borders of the province of Karbala and is also adjacent to the Saudi border.” The project “aims to build fields for breeding calves, as well as producing dairy products and drinking water.” Large dairy companies will likely be established, mimicking a number of successful projects in Saudi Arabia.

The source did not deny the security objectives behind the project. “This area is lacking in security,” he said. “It is located on Saudi Arabia’s border, and the two countries are trying to turn it into a labor-intensive business center, which brings stability to it rather than it posing a permanent threat to both countries.”

He said that, politically, “Saudi Arabia certainly seeks to expand in Iraq, but will not follow the Iranian example, which occupies the Iraqi market without employing the labor force in Iraq.” Saudi Arabia, he said, “seeks soft dominance in Iraq by creating jobs for Iraqis,” which will make its “presence and influence in the political scene acceptable within the Iraqi society.”

Nukhayb has long been a disputed area between Anbar and Karbala. Nukhayb is administratively affiliated with Anbar province, but Karbala demands that it be annexed to its administrative borders. Security tension is common there, but the area has been relatively stable for nearly two years now.

Mohammadi denied “an actual start of investment operations in Anbar.” He said, “Saudi Arabia and Iraq only discussed the projects put forward,” noting that “this is due to the security and political instability in Iraq.”

In fact, not many political forces and Shiite factions welcome the idea of Saudi Arabia coming to Iraq and establishing business operations there. This rejection was demonstrated in March, when the media reported an upcoming visit to Iraq by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and, in response, Shiite factions and parties organized protests in a number of cities in Iraq.

Some Iraqi parliamentarians from Shiite blocs are seeking to pass a law similar to the American Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act to sue Saudi Arabia for allegedly allowing its citizens to enter Iraq and commit acts of terrorism on its territory.

Mohammadi ruled out the possibility that this would intimidate Saudi Arabia and stop it from launching projects in Anbar. “The Iranian-Saudi conflict has a wide impact on the countries of the region,” he said, “but Iraq’s neutral policy has been boding well so far, and I hope it continues to achieve what is in the interest of Iraq.”

Addressing whether Saudi Arabia fears for its investments in Iraq from pro-Iranian factions, Ansari said, “Saudi Arabia does not fear anyone and is capable of protecting its interests by all means, be it in the region or anywhere in the world.”

Iraq needs a very balanced policy in dealing with its conflicting neighbors Iran and Saudi Arabia, a fact that ought to be taken into account when either of these two countries wants to invest in Iraq, especially since both Iran and Saudi Arabia believe that investments are also a gateway to influence Iraq’s political situation.