Saudi Arabia


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.

Saudi Arabia looks to Expand its Footprint in Iraq

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.

Following Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s two visits to Saudi Arabia last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is set to visit Iraq soon, according to Iraqi parliamentarian Saadoun al-Dulaimi.

Although neither Riyadh nor Baghdad have officially announced the visit, Dulaimi said in a March 12 tweet that Prince Mohammed will spend two days in Iraq, first meeting with Abadi in Baghdad to “sign agreements,” followed by a visit to Najaf to meet religious leaders.

Saudi Arabia was scheduled to reopen its consulate in the oil-rich city of Basra, which is adjacent to Iran, in March, but this was delayed for administrative reasons. Some reports say that Mohammed may open the consulates in Basra and Najaf, the Shiite religious center that is home to top Shiite clerics, during his upcoming visit to Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Saudi Embassy in Iraq is in the process of setting up the consulate office at the Sheraton Hotel in Basra. The consulate was closed in 1990 in the wake of the Gulf crisis that erupted during the regime of Saddam Hussein, and remained closed as a result of tensions in Saudi-Iraqi relations.

The Saudi kingdom opened a consulate in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq, in early 2016.

The decisions to expand Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic representation in Iraq come as part of a broader framework to strengthen the official political relations between the two governments. Saudi Arabia is seeking to establish economic and social bridges between the two countries in various fields.

Abdul Rahman al-Shahri, head of the Saudi delegation responsible for the establishment of the consulate in Basra, said that these measures are carried out to “provide services and incentives to both religious pilgrims and economic delegations between the two countries.”

Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, Saudi ambassador to Iraq, said in a statement in January, “Saudi Arabia is mostly interested in developing relations between the two countries in all areas that serve their aspirations.”

In late February, a friendly soccer game was held between Saudi Arabia and Iraq in the city of Basra, the first between the two countries in three decades. The game was attended by Saudi delegations and a large crowd of Iraqi fans.

The media office of Abadi said in a statement March 5 that the prime minister had received a phone call from Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in which the latter pledged to build a soccer stadium in Baghdad for 100,000 spectators. It was later announced that Saudi Arabia would increase the number of seats to 135,000.

The statement said that “King Salman expressed his readiness and commitment to expand the positive relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia at the economic, commercial, popular and cultural levels, as well as all levels of interest to both countries.”

Saudi companies, most recently the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, one of the world’s leading petrochemicals companies, have been opening offices in Baghdad and Basra to expand economic exchange between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia is focusing its attention on Basra because it is the richest city in Iraq with the country’s largest oil fields and gateway to the Persian Gulf. It is also the most populous city after Baghdad, is adjacent to the Iranian border and home to an overwhelming majority of Shiites who share the same tribal and ethnic origins with Saudi tribes. In addition, many Saudi and Basra families are linked through marriage.

Saudi Arabia is also receiving Shiite figures who are viewed as independent of Iran. These include Sadrist movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr, who visited Saudi Arabia last year and met with King Salman and Prince Mohammed. He was warmly received amid much fanfare.

Saudi news sites, most notably Al-Arabiya, are refraining from criticizing supreme Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani, because his views are independent from those of Tehran and has broad influence among Iraqi Shiites.

All this has been a matter of concern for Iran, which has allegedly mobilized parties to raise banners in Basra condemning the opening of the Saudi Consulate and the various economic and sporting activities.

The State of Law Coalition led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is close to Iran, opposes Saudi Arabia’s opening of a consulate in Najaf.

Iraq is seemingly determined to pursue rapprochement and cooperation with Saudi Arabia, and is organizing regular visits by political, economic and media delegations. These included Abadi’s visit to Saudi Arabia last October, during which the memorandum of establishment of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council was signed to develop relations between the two countries.

Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji also visited Saudi Arabia last year, and Abadi insisted on receiving Saudi delegations even if they were not high level. In February, for instance, he received the Saudi media delegation that visited Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Journalists Union.

In October, Saudi Arabia resumed its flights to Iraq after 27 years, and it opened in October 2017 its border crossing in southern Iraq to expand economic travel and increase tourist and religious travel between the two sides.

The first initiatives to expand relations between the two countries were directly sponsored by the United States with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attending the meeting of the establishment of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council in Riyadh in October.

The Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement appears to take place in the context of the new US policy that followed the support garnered by President Donald Trump from the US allies in the region to form a united front to counter Iran’s rise in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia has seemingly made great progress in achieving rapprochement with Iraq and expanding its areas of influence within the last year. Such rapprochement is likely to get stronger should Abadi manage to keep his seat for another term in the elections scheduled for May.

Saudi Arabia to Fund Iraqi Football Stadium

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has promised to build a football stadium in Iraq.

The news followed a friendly match between the two countries’ teams in Basra last week.

The Iraqi-Saudi Ministerial Coordination Council met on Monday to discuss the measures needed to improve cooperation in the economic, investment, cultural and other sectors.

(Sources: Asharq al-Awsat, Reuters)

Saudi’s SABIC “in talks” to join Nebras Petchem Project

By John Lee.

Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) is in talks to join Iraq’s Nebras petrochemical project, according to a report from Reuters.

An advisor to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the news agency at the CWC Iraq Petroleum Conference in Berlin that talks are at advanced stage at ministerial level.

He said SABIC would enter as a fourth partner in the project, along with Shell and the Iraqi oil and agriculture ministries.

(Source: Reuters)

Saudis to Open Basra Consulate; Iran Opens Border To Iraqis

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 Saleem al-Wazzan.

As Saudis Prepare To Open Basra Consulate, Iran Opens Border To Iraqis

Iraqis can now visit a special visa-free zone in neighbouring Iran, over the border from Basra. Some locals see the open border as a cynical economic and political move that helps Iran, but not Iraq.

An Iraqi passport is one of the most difficult in the world. Only a handful of countries will allow Iraqis to travel there without applying for a visa a long time in advance. But now, Iraq’s next-door neighbour, Iran, has opened some of the areas closest to Basra to Iraqis, that they may access without a visa.

The decision has been greeted with both enthusiasm and cynicism in Iraq. Locals in southern Iraq have often made pilgrimages into Iran for religious and medical reasons and they welcome the decision, even though it only applies to the areas of Khorramshahr and Abadan, which lie directly on the border. Meanwhile local businessmen say it’s a commercial decision that will mainly benefit Iran.

The decision has been made and now Iran is only waiting for the Iraqi government’s go-ahead, Ahmed Sayhaboush, head of mission at the Iranian consulate in Basra, said. He explained that the decision was made in the interests of encouraging friendly relations between the two countries.

Passports will still be stamped at the border, the head of communications at the Iranian consulate, Mohammed Ismail, explained. Iraqis will be able to stay in the visa-free border areas for up to a month and during that time, they can obtain a visa to travel further into Iran if they wish. There will be special crossing points in Khorramshahr and Abadan. Many Iraqis on religious pilgrimage like to go to the shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad, for example, but this is well out of the visa-free area.

The border authorities have decided to limit the entry times of Iraqis wishing to cross into the visa-free zones to between 6am and 5pm daily, Ali Yousef, a spokesperson for the Basra council, explained further.

“The Iranian move will increase the number of people moving between the two countries and this will benefit both nations” Jabbar al-Saedi, the head of the security committee on Basra’s provincial council, said. “We have however stressed the need to follow up on security controls to prevent any illegals crossing the border.”

One local from Basra, Mohammed Marhoun, believes that the visa-free zones will be good for business. He says he has already purchased a house and an apartment in Khorramshahr and says the process was relatively uncomplicated, compared to the bureaucracy he faced in Iraq. The number of visitors from Iraq into Iran means that there is more construction in border areas to accommodate visitors. The only problem, Marhoun said, was that one did have to have an Iranian name on the deed.

And he is not the only one utilising this opportunity, Marhoun points out. “Members of the provincial council and MPs from Basra have also invested in real estate in the visa-free zones,” he noted. “But they don’t want anybody to know about these investments, which are now being managed by Iranians.”

While businesspeople like Marhoun and investors in real estate might be pleased, there are some observers who are not so enthusiastic. They believe that the move will only benefit Iran in the long run.

It’s just another way to deplete Iraq’s currency reserves and to encourage more consumerism among Iraqis, says Nabil Jaafar Abdul Redha, a professor of economics in Basra. “Even if Iraq now allows Iranians to enter Iraqi cities without a visa nothing will change because there are no local products to be sold to them,” Abdul Redha argues. “So, the Iraqi economy is the loser in this process.”

“Iraqis might benefit from being able to go to Khorramshahr or Abadan and buying Iranian goods at slightly lower prices,” he concedes. “But overall, this does not benefit Iraq.” The main problem is that Iraq doesn’t produce much other than oil – it remains what is known as a rentier economy, one that is basically dependent on exporting oil to fuel its economy. Most manufactured goods are imported, in exchange for the money the oil raises.

“Our economy is not as diversified as Iran’s,” Abdul Redha tells NIQASH. “So, any commercial exchange with our neighbours – that includes Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia – tends to be one sided.”

There has been an influx of Iranians into Iraq in recent years for religious reasons. But that doesn’t outweigh the trade balance, he adds.

“The number of Iraqis entering Iran every day numbers between 2,000 and 3,000,” posits Abdel-Saheb Saleh, deputy head of an association for Basra’s businesses. “If we estimate that each of them will spend between US$100 and US$500 over there, that’s a good income for Iran.”

Saleh thinks the visa-free areas could be a positive for another reason. Iraq has been isolated for a long time due to security and political issues, Saleh says. This could be seen as a positive message to other regional governments who block the entry of Iraqis. “For example, a visa to visit Kuwait costs US$1,800 on the black market,” he complains.

Meanwhile local man, Ahmad Fadel, a civil society activist who recently visited what will be the visa-free zone, isn’t that impressed. For one thing, he says, the Iranian border guards treat the Iraqis crossing into their country badly. For another, there’s not much in Khorramshahr or Abadan that could really attract tourists. “The cities have poor infrastructure,” he notes.

And Fadel has another theory as to the reason behind the visa-free zones. He believes it may also be the Iranian reaction to Iraq’s new détente with Saudi Arabia, a country the Iranians tend to see as a geo-political rival. Saudi Arabia is about to reopen its consulate in new premises in Basra; it closed the original one way back in 1990.

Saudis see Opportunities in Helping to Rebuild Iraq

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

The reconstruction of Iraq’s liberated Sunni areas will open new horizons for the country, as 400 companies worldwide are engaged in the Reconstruction Fund for Areas Affected by Terroristic Operations to restore life to areas freed of the Islamic State (IS). Iraq will need $100 billion from other countries for the project, according to Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili.

Chief among those countries is Saudi Arabia, which will take this opportunity to stem what it sees as the rising tide of Iranian influence in Mesopotamia. Iraq looks to Saudi Arabia as one of the big players in this process and wants it to play a large role.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter Jan. 18 to Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud asking for support. On the same day, Salman stressed Saudi Arabia’s willingness to help Iraq. He said Iraq is Saudi Arabia’s “brotherly” country — one that holds deep strategic importance for Saudi Arabia.

In another sign of Iraq’s outreach to Saudi Arabia, Iraqi parliament Speaker Salim alJabouri met Jan. 18 in Baghdad with Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, who confirmed his country’s support for Iraq in this issue.

Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its relationship with Iraq’s Sunnis but doesn’t want to distance itself from Iraq’s Shiites. Riyadh is working to return Iraq to a higher standing in the Arab world and reduce Tehran’s influence, which became entrenched after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Salman al-Ansari, head of the US-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The size of Saudi Arabia’s participation in the reconstruction of the liberated areas is not bound by any financial ceiling. This will be proved during the Saudi participation in the conference of donor countries, which will be held in Kuwait between Feb. 14 and 16.”

Iraq expects 70 countries to take part in the donor conference, and Abadi has paved the way for the meeting by calling state leaders and explaining to them how much the reconstruction will cost.

Iraqi Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi told Al-Monitor the king has confirmed he will attend the conference but hasn’t disclosed how much Saudi Arabia plans to invest.

“Iraq is relying heavily on the role of Saudi Arabia in the reconstruction process because of Saudi Arabia’s economic and political clout in the region,” Hindawi said.

The political blocs of the liberated areas are on good terms with Saudi Arabia, which allows Riyadh to hit two birds with one stone: It can prove its good faith toward Iraq as a country and build the community base in those areas for pro-Saudi parties.

The two countries’ political relationship has seen progress in the past three years, and the Saudi support in restoring life to the liberated areas is expected to crown this rapprochement.

Saudis see Opportunities in Helping to Rebuild Iraq

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

The reconstruction of Iraq’s liberated Sunni areas will open new horizons for the country, as 400 companies worldwide are engaged in the Reconstruction Fund for Areas Affected by Terroristic Operations to restore life to areas freed of the Islamic State (IS). Iraq will need $100 billion from other countries for the project, according to Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili.

Chief among those countries is Saudi Arabia, which will take this opportunity to stem what it sees as the rising tide of Iranian influence in Mesopotamia. Iraq looks to Saudi Arabia as one of the big players in this process and wants it to play a large role.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sent a letter Jan. 18 to Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud asking for support. On the same day, Salman stressed Saudi Arabia’s willingness to help Iraq. He said Iraq is Saudi Arabia’s “brotherly” country — one that holds deep strategic importance for Saudi Arabia.

In another sign of Iraq’s outreach to Saudi Arabia, Iraqi parliament Speaker Salim alJabouri met Jan. 18 in Baghdad with Saudi Ambassador Abdul Aziz al-Shammari, who confirmed his country’s support for Iraq in this issue.

Saudi Arabia wants to strengthen its relationship with Iraq’s Sunnis but doesn’t want to distance itself from Iraq’s Shiites. Riyadh is working to return Iraq to a higher standing in the Arab world and reduce Tehran’s influence, which became entrenched after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003.

Salman al-Ansari, head of the US-based Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The size of Saudi Arabia’s participation in the reconstruction of the liberated areas is not bound by any financial ceiling. This will be proved during the Saudi participation in the conference of donor countries, which will be held in Kuwait between Feb. 14 and 16.”

Iraq expects 70 countries to take part in the donor conference, and Abadi has paved the way for the meeting by calling state leaders and explaining to them how much the reconstruction will cost.

Iraqi Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi told Al-Monitor the king has confirmed he will attend the conference but hasn’t disclosed how much Saudi Arabia plans to invest.

“Iraq is relying heavily on the role of Saudi Arabia in the reconstruction process because of Saudi Arabia’s economic and political clout in the region,” Hindawi said.

The political blocs of the liberated areas are on good terms with Saudi Arabia, which allows Riyadh to hit two birds with one stone: It can prove its good faith toward Iraq as a country and build the community base in those areas for pro-Saudi parties.

The two countries’ political relationship has seen progress in the past three years, and the Saudi support in restoring life to the liberated areas is expected to crown this rapprochement.