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 al-Jabouri 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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