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King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with Iraqi PM Al-Abadi 221017 b

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.

Posted in Investment, Iraq Industry & Trade News, Iraq Oil & Gas News, Politics, Security 0 Comments

Michael Boardman, AMAR

AMAR Foundation Strenghtens Financial Committee

The Board of the AMAR International Charitable Foundation is to expand and strengthen its Finance Committee.

It will now be chaired by leading financial businessman and AMAR supporter, Mr Michael Boardman. The present Chairman, Mr Chris Frost is standing down, but will continue to advise AMAR in a different capacity.

Jonathan Ayres, the Chief Financial Officer of United Trust Bank, who has been a member of the committee for the last five years, will also stand down.

Mr Boardman will be joined on the committee by Mr Hadi Damirji, Mr Gavin Wishart, and Mr Siddik Bakir.

AMAR Chairman, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne; Board President, Professor Theodore Zeldin; and Board Vice-Chairman, Damon Parker, will continue in their roles on the committee.

Mr Boardman has more than 25 years’ experience of capital markets, financial management and reporting, valuation and business analysis. For 18 years he worked at Nomura Securities, the global investment banking and investment management company.

As a Managing Director responsible for Emerging Markets and a senior member of Nomura’s Global Finance team in Europe, he advised, structured and executed capital markets transactions and was personally responsible for raising over US$30 billion, in public and private markets.

For the last seven years, he has been Group CFO of Sindicatum Sustainable Resources, a high growth developer, owner and operator of renewable energy projects in the emerging markets of Asia.

Mr Boardman has been a regular speaker at industry events organised by the London Stock Exchange, Micex, Borsa Italiana and Euromoney and has published several articles about listings and public markets.

Mr Wishart, who is also a Board member of AMAR’s sister organisation, the Iraq Britain Business Council, worked at senior level in banking across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and UK during a career spanning 37 years.

Most recently he was Regional Head, Financial Institutions, Europe and Americas at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and before that was Chief Executive Officer, leading Baghdad, for Standard Chartered Bank.

Mr Damirji founded Optitune Plc in 2001,and is an Executive Board Member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. He was the Deputy Chairman of Trinity Group Ltd from 2007-2012 and CEO of Trinity Strategic Advisors from 2007 to 2008.

Mr Siddik Bakir is a Senior Oil Market Analyst at Saudi Aramco’s Strategy and Market Analysis Department in Saudi Arabia.

Previously, Siddik was based in London where he worked as a Senior Energy Analyst for the Middle East and South Asia and an Upstream Energy Consultant at IHS (IHS Markit).

Commenting on the Financial Committee changes, Baroness Nicholson said today:

You can see from the bio data of the new members that the committee has been hugely strengthened. AMAR has always been rigorous in it financial dealings and we intend that always to be our trademark.”

“We believe we now have a fantastic committee to ensure the Board has the strongest possible financial leadership and support.

(Source: AMAR)

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King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud 2

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)

Posted in Construction & Engineering In Iraq, Leisure and Tourism in Iraq 0 Comments

Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) HQ

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)

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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.

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Haider Al-Abadi meets King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 190617

Saudi Arabia to re-open Consulate in Basra

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia will reportedly re-open its consulate in Basra within two weeks.

Al Arabiya says that the consulate closed in 1990 during the second Gulf war.

(Source: Al Arabiya)

(Picture: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi meeting Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, King of Saudi Arabia, 19th June 2017)

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Saudi Iraq Kuwait border map

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.

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Commission of Integrity logo 2

Corruption Probes: Iraq takes Custody of Officials

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Iraq is boosting its efforts to extradite fugitives wanted in corruption cases.

On Jan. 25, Iraqi authorities in cooperation with Interpol took custody of former Trade Minister Abdel Falah al-Sudani, who had been extradited from Lebanon. Sudani, a fugitive since 2009, had been tried and sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison for corruption.

Ziad al-Qattan, the former general secretary in the Ministry of Defense, was extradited from Jordan and handed over to Iraqi authorities Jan. 11.​ Qattan is accused of embezzling about $1 billion from the ministry.

“Such steps toward trying accused [politicians] in a country that is at the top of the list of the most corrupt countries, such as Iraq, are of paramount importance to regain the people’s confidence in the Iraqi judiciary and its ability to tackle corruption,” legal expert Ali Jaber told Al-Monitor.

“The extradition of wanted people is twofold. The procedure goes through the bilateral agreement between Iraq and other countries and through the international police [Interpol],” he said.

The UN Charter allows countries fighting terrorist groups to ask for assistance from the Security Council, which is the case with Iraq. These countries can also claim funds that had been smuggled abroad.

“Many countries have been helping Iraq to recover funds and take fugitives into custody,” Jaber said. “I believe that Iraq will witness many breakthroughs in the future at this level, especially since the Iraqi government said tackling corruption will be its top priority after the end of the war on the Islamic State.”

In early January, a representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency met in Iraq with Integrity Commission Chairman Hassan al-Yasiri to discuss, among other topics, coordinating anti-corruption efforts.

The Integrity Commission said Iraq, with Interpol’s help, recovered about 2 billion Iraqi dinars ($1.68 million) in December from nine convicted fugitives by tracking their money and conducting investigations to follow financial transactions globally.

Many officials accused of corruption remain free, however. Some have dual nationality, which makes it easier for them to leave. For example, Basra Gov. Majid al-Nasrawi used his Australian passport to flee Iraq in August. He faces charges of stealing public money.

There are also warrants out for the arrests of fugitive officials wanted on corruption charges, including former Minister of Electricity Ayham al-Samarrai, former Transport Minister Louay al-Ors and former Defense Minister Hazim Shaalan, who was accused in 2005 of being involved in the theft of at least $1.3 billion from the ministry.

Judge Abdul-Sattar al-Birqdar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Supreme Judicial Council in Baghdad, explained extradition procedures to Al-Monitor. “The Supreme Judicial Council issues warrants for the recovery of smuggled funds. The Extradition Division in the public prosecutor’s office follows up on the matter. The prosecutor then issues the necessary decisions,” which could entail property confiscation.

Legal expert Tariq Harb told Al-Monitor, “The current process in Iraq is that the authorities hand over the official documents of charges of the accused to Interpol. In the event Interpol catches the accused, the Iraqi security authorities will take them into custody to stand a fair trial.”

Iraq’s increased efforts to recover assets from abroad will help speed up the often lengthy process of extradition. However, “this doesn’t mean this road won’t be fraught with many obstacles, as many of the accused are linked to powerful politicians who could pull some strings to derail or end the procedures.” Some countries might also use prisoners as bargaining chips, he said.

Ahmad al-Jubouri, a member of the parliamentary Legal Committee, told Al-Monitor, “The process to recover funds and arrest [those accused] is of major importance, as the Iraqi people have been demanding reforms and the fight against corruption. Under this pressure, the Iraqi government has started to take serious steps” and has even hired foreign companies to help track funds and facilitate extradition. “The upcoming period will witness major changes in corruption investigations,” he said.

He added, “The arrest of Sudani and Qattan will open the door to further arrests of the people who misused and smuggled public funds to neighboring countries. Some of the accused are traders and businessmen who made illicit deals in the name of influential politicians or political parties. Iraq is known for the rampant corruption among politicians. The arrests will include all those who took part in or facilitated embezzlement of public funds. This will be a crucial step in recovering these funds.”

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Badra oilfield (Gazprom Neft) 7

Iraq to Comply with Opec Supply Cuts

By John Lee.

Financial Times reports that Iraq will comply with OPEC-led efforts to restrict crude oil production, even as Saudi Arabia said it is striving to boost its export capacity.

It quotes Oil Minister Jabar Ali al-Luaibi [Allibi, Luiebi] as saying that Iraq’s export capacity would reach 5m bpd by the end of this year, but adding that it will comply with OPEC declarations.

December output stood at 4.4 million bpd.

(Source: Financial Times)

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Iraq-Saudi Links Enhanced

By John Lee.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz received in Al Yamama Palace in Al Riyadh the Iraqi Planning/Trade Minister (acting) Dr. Salman Al Jumaily, Head of the Iraqi side in the Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council, Dr. Sami R. Al Araji, Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), Mr. Kadhim Mohamed Al Iqabi, Chairman of the Borders Crossings Commission, Engineer Adil Kereem, Vice Minister of Industry and Minerals and the Chargé d’affaires of the Iraqi Embassy to the Kingdom.

During the meeting, the importance of the council was emphasized in developing and enhancing the mutual cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

Prince Abdul Aziz Bin Saood Bin Naif Bin Abdul Aziz, Minister of Interior Affaires and Minister of Trade and Investment the head of the Saudi side in the Coordination Council both attended the reception.

(Source: NIC)

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