What strengthening Saudi-Iraq relations means to the region

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Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, left, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his first official trip to Riyadh last month. (AFP)
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An Iraqi protester holds up an Iranian flag as another sets fire to it during demonstrations in Basra in 2018. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2019

What strengthening Saudi-Iraq relations means to the region

  • A recent agreement between the two countries could help counter Iran’s actions
  • Co-operation between the two will bring more stability, experts say

DUBAI: Stronger relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will mean more stability in the region, particularly when it comes to stemming the influence of Iran, according to experts who commented on a recent agreement promoting co-operation between the two countries.
Exerting more influence in Iraq will prove crucial for the Kingdom, they explained, as Iran’s close relationship with the former causes concern among many neighboring countries. Security and intelligence are some of the areas in which Iraq and Saudi Arabia will cooperate in the near future, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim was reported as saying.
The announcement came during a state visit last month by an Iraqi delegation to Saudi Arabia led by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The leaders signed 13 agreements in areas such as trade, energy and political cooperation.
According to experts, Saudi Arabia may have the best chance of bringing stability and security to Iraq. “These actions are based on an economic and security approach, having intelligence as a key element to project all potential scenarios, including countering Iran’s possible actions to alter this relation,” said Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.
“Iran will be facing, from the United States and Europe, the hardest actions, including additional sanctions. On the other hand, there is a momentum in Iraq, with an increasing interest from a vast majority of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, to stop the influence of Iran in Iraq.”
Obdola said this will create an important opportunity for Saudi Arabia to establish a strong security and intelligence strategy with Iraq, along with economic investments, to stabilize it against the actions of Daesh.
“This toxic influence from Iran has reached a level of rejection within the Iraqi population,” he said. “With this announced security and intelligence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, there is very much an opportunity to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq, strengthen military and intelligence capabilities, and get a better capacity to counter any actions from Iran in the region, and even abroad.”
Obdola expressed concern about Iran implementing new low-intensity actions against the Arab Gulf states, with even more serious security implications for the rest of the region and abroad.
“The Iranian regime’s actions in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq show its confidence regarding a lack of direct retaliation from the international community,” he said. “This will change if Iran keeps (up) this disruptive behavior. Iran is still building military and terrorist capabilities, and networks in other regions around the world to create conditions which will impact the US and European forces established in Africa, including Central Africa.”
On Yemen, he said, the Houthis had frequently stated their tactics were modelled on those of the Viet Cong and resistance movements in Latin America, as well as Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah, with which they have obvious kinship.
“Both Hezbollah and Iran have increased their provision of guns, missiles, military training and funds for the Houthi war effort since 2014, (pleased) to see their Saudi enemies expend soldiers and money on the Yemeni stalemate,” he said. “We must also be aware that there are old and new alliances in this scenario, including Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran, among other actors, who must be closely watched.”
Obdola spoke of Saudi Arabia’s strong military capacity and intelligence, supported by its allies in the GCC, and military cooperation with other nations. “However, Iran has global intelligence and terrorist networks which must be analyzed and approached by traditional and non-traditional intelligence strategies,” he said. “Iran’s military apparatus will not be used against Saudi Arabia — it is not projected, at least — and it could be a huge mistake if there is any intention to. Its actions are and will continue to be based on a more low-level, low-intensity, and irregular warfare, and as such, the intelligence strategy of Riyadh must be developed and implemented accordingly.”
According to Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Arabia-Iraq rapprochement was born out of domestic change within Iraq. He mentioned the demonstrations by the Shiite majority region of Basra, which have shown the extent of general Iraqi discontent with Iran’s hegemony over their country. “The assertiveness of Kurds, especially the uncompromised new president Barham Salih, and determination not to be a pawn (of) any geopolitical competition, led to Iraq’s willingness to get closer to the Saudi-led order,” he said. “Finally, Iran’s gradual weakening as a result of the US pressure and sanctions may have contributed to Baghdad’s hedging its bets.”
He said both Saudi Arabia and Iraq stood to benefit from cooperation in many fields, especially security in the post-Daesh Middle East. “As the terrorist group is splintering into smaller cells, monitoring and coordination by all countries are necessary to avoid a repetition of the Al-Qaeda post-Afghanistan situation,” he said. “Another issue of the smuggling of narcotics between the two countries is of increasing demand. The security cooperation between Saddam’s Iraq and Saudi Arabia, prior to the former’s invasion of Kuwait, could serve as a model of security cooperation between the two countries.”
Funding is also a key element of the cooperation. Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London, foresees much financial support from the Kingdom for Iraq. “There could also be capacity-building and worrying about the regional threat — Saudis are worrying about groups emanating from Iraq, and about managing their relationship with Iran, as Iraq has a strong relationship with Iran.”
He said it would be complicated, with militias involved in the Iraqi government. “But Saudi Arabia has money, and they can use that to get themselves access and influence,” he said. “Saudis are trying to make sure they are buying themselves an influence in a neighboring country where Iran has a lot of influence — there is a big push happening in Iran, and a part of that is for Saudi Arabia to have an influence in Baghdad.”
Iraq is of great geostrategic importance for Iran, Obdola said. “So a multi-dimensional intelligence component, along with a strong military cooperation, are the most fundamentally important elements for any security cooperation to be effective,” he said.
“This is truly the key component here, having the facts of not only regional players in any scenario to be considered, but potentially more global actors who could, in any particular situation, be used against Saudi Arabia. If all intelligence and security scenarios are projected in a local, regional and even international arena, then Saudi Arabia will be successful in this needed security cooperation with Iraq.”


The ancient caravan route between Taif and Makkah

Updated 07 May 2021

The ancient caravan route between Taif and Makkah

  • Hussein bin Salameh ordered the construction of two paths — one for camels and one for pedestrians — to facilitate the exchange and trade of goods in the Kingdom.

JEDDAH: The ancient stone road known as the “caravan route” linking Taif and Makkah is a cultural legacy of great historical value. It was constructed more than 1,000 years ago and was used regularly by pedestrians up to the 1960s.

At the time the road was built, movement between Taif and Makkah was restricted by Al-Qarah Mountain, researcher Hammad Al-Salimi explained. So Hussein bin Salameh ordered the construction of two paths — one for camels and one for pedestrians — to facilitate the exchange and trade of goods in the Kingdom.

The winding road made it possible to cross the mountain and was a remarkable feat of engineering, considering the limited technology available at the time of its creation.

“The roads were paved with stones, which made them resemble staircases winding between the top of the mountain in Al-Hada, the Karr below Al-Qarah Mountain, Shaddad and then Wadi Noman,” Al-Salimi said, adding that a third road, for cars, was built in the mid-1960s, during the reign of King Faisal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud.

Al-Salimi said that the two original paths are “important monuments, which should be preserved and maintained because they are part of the Al-Qarah Mountain system and complement the beautiful image of this mountain.”

Historian and writer Saleh Al-Judi explained that — before cars were common in the Kingdom — people would use the route to travel between the two cities, a journey taking around three days. The passage through the mountain, he said, is around six kilometers. In the middle of the route, he added, is a well-known site called Al-Rukb.

He said the route is mentioned in histories from the fifth Hijri century (1009-1106 CE), which say that it had room for pedestrians and animals alike. Al-Qathami stressed the importance of preserving the road as an historical landmark, as it is an important artery linking Taif and Makkah.


KSrelief chief meets Beninese envoy to Saudi Arabia

Updated 06 May 2021

KSrelief chief meets Beninese envoy to Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The general supervisor of the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief), Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, met the ambassador of Benin to the Kingdom, Mataero Fadel, in Riyadh on Thursday.

The meeting discussed the development of projects implemented in Benin, and ways to enhance them.

Fadel praised the professional excellence of KSrelief and its service to the needy around the world, especially to groups in Benin, pointing out that the center is a milestone in the field of humanitarian work.

This Ramadan, KSrelief distributed 164 tons of food baskets to thousands of families in Benin, as part of the humanitarian aid provided by the Kingdom, through KSrelief, to friendly countries during the holy month.

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Updated 06 May 2021

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Maram A. Kokandi has been the general manager of the Jeddah’s Park Inn Hotel since its construction work began in 2017.

The hotel, by Radisson, started operating in Saudi Arabia’s coastal city in September 2020. Kokandi managed the hotel from its construction phase until the time it opened. 

Kokandi obtained a bachelor’s degree in international hospitality management from the Cardiff Metropolitan University in 2015.

Three years earlier, she received a high diploma in international hospitality and international tourism management from the London Metropolitan University, London, UK. In 2010, she attended foundation courses on the same specialties at the Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK.

From August 2015 to February 2017, she served as a senior property consultant at Emaar Middle East, where she provided consultations to clients on property selection based on their needs and budgets. She led a sales team to leverage opportunities and generate new leads. 

For nearly three years and 8 months beginning in April 2011, Kokandi worked as a public relations and marketing manager for the Middle East at the London-based Baha Mar, where she worked on analyzing all sales reports and developing sales strategies to achieve targets.

From April 2008 to September 2010, she was a sales manager at Park Hyatt Hotel, Jeddah, where she was in charge of welcoming and hosting VIP guests.

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Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

Updated 06 May 2021

Two Holy Mosques chief receives Sudanese culture minister

MAKKAH: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sudais, the president of the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, on Wednesday received the Sudanese minister of culture and information, Hamzah Balloul, in Makkah.

During the meeting, Al-Sudais highlighted the determination of the Saudi leadership to provide a safe environment and well-organized service system for worshippers and visitors to the Two Holy Mosques, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

He also noted the strength of relations between Saudi Arabia and Sudan based on common religious and cultural values, as well as similar stances on regional and international issues.

As part of his trip, Balloul went to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah where he performed prayers, and on Tuesday toured the King Abdul Aziz Complex for Holy Kaaba Kiswa in Makkah to witness the various stages of manufacturing the kiswa. He also visited an exhibition on the architecture of the Two Holy Mosques.


Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

Updated 06 May 2021

Saudi team competes in world’s largest pre-college science fair

JEDDAH: Some of Saudi Arabia’s most talented students are taking part in one of the world’s biggest scientific competitions, the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF 2021).
Backed in the remotely held US-based competition by the King Abdul Aziz and his Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), 30 Saudi students are competing alongside 1,800 others from more than 75 countries.
To prepare and hone their skills ahead of the competition, the Saudi students took part in a training camp in Riyadh, where they are now competing in the event, which ends on Thursday.
The team is taking part in research projects in the fields of energy, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, viruses, environmental security, aquaculture and desert farming.
Several students previously took part in the 11th National Olympics for Scientific Creativity, one of 19 different programs provided by Mawhiba each year to talented students across the Kingdom.
Training was delivered by a selection of Saudi and US experts from various disciplines.
The six-day camp included a training workshop on delivery skills in partnership with the Al-Elqa Training Center in Riyadh, to prepare members of the Saudi team for ISEF 2021 and hone their presentation abilities.
During ISEF 2021, the Saudi students are presenting their scientific projects to members of a jury committee for judging.
Members of the scientific committee and jury hold a series of individual interviews with students to review and provide scientific support to projects.
Within the Saudi student group, 21 male and nine female students went through training before reaching the competition.
They were selected as part of a larger group from 51,000 students across the Kingdom after their work was reviewed. About 150 of the students then took part in the Ibdaa 2021 fair. The 35 winners were honored by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal last March, after which the top 30 projects were selected to represent the Kingdom at ISEF.
Saudi Arabia, represented by Mawhiba, is taking part in ISEF 2021 as a major sponsor and will also present a special award for the best projects involved in the field of energy. It is the 15th year in a row that outstanding Saudi students are taking part in the international science fair.
Saudi students have so far won a total of 48 grand prizes and 27 special prizes in the competition. These included eight awards in 2020, including five grand prizes and three special prizes. Mawhiba also provides special international awards in the competition. So far, 79 prizes have been awarded by Mawhiba to 97 students from 20 countries. ISEF is the world’s largest pre-college science fair, first taking place in 1950.