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.”

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

Updated 4 sec ago

Saudi Arabia marks World Meteorological Day

JEDDAH: World Meteorological Day, observed on March 23 every year, is celebrated this year under the theme “The Future of Weather, Climate and Water Across Generations.”

It aims to join efforts at all national, regional and international levels to address the causes of extreme weather events and climate change, as well as the increasing scarcity of water resources.

The occasion also falls on the anniversary of the World Meteorological Organization’s establishment in 1950. The organization acts as an international umbrella that deals with weather and climate predictions, and serves as an effective channel for international cooperation in this vital area of development, urbanization and stability of humans and living organisms on the planet.

Through this year’s theme, the organization aims to pay tribute to the 24-hour national services of the meteorological and hydrological facilities, which collect and consolidate weather prediction data. 

Saudi Arabia is one of the founding states of the organization and undertook significant work in the field of meteorology at the local, regional and international levels. Its work in this regard is reflected in its functions on meteorology and climate, as well as through eight regional and international centers.

These centers are the Jeddah Regional Communication Center, the Regional Center for Drought Monitoring and Early Warning, the Jeddah Regional Climate Center, the Jeddah Global Information System Center, the Operational Information Center for Air Navigation Services, the Jeddah Historical Information Rescue Center, the Atmospheric and Hydrological Research Center, and the Agricultural Meteorology Research Center. 

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

Updated 26 min 9 sec ago

Saudi Civil Defense warns of thunderstorms, dust storms

JEDDAH: The General Directorate of Saudi Civil Defense has urged residents to take precautionary measures against thunderstorms and dust storms that are likely to affect some regions between Friday and Monday. 

The organization, acting on information from the National Center of Meteorology, said the Makkah region will be affected by moderate to heavy rains that may lead to torrential flows. The areas of Taif, Maysan, Adham, Al-Khurmah, Al-Ardiyat, Turbah, Rania, Al-Muwayh, Qia, Khulais, Al-Kamil, Al-Jumum, Bahra, Al-Lith, and Al-Qunfudhah are expected to be hit.

The Riyadh region is also expected to suffer, including the capital, Al-Kharj, Wadi Al-Dawasir, As-Sulayyil, Afif, Al-Duwadmi, Shaqra, Al-Zulfi, Al-Majma’ah, Al-Quwa’iyah, Al-Ghat, Hotat Bani Tamim, Al-Aflaj, Thadiq, Ramah, Al-Muzahimiyah, Al-Diriyah, Dhurma, Huraymila and Al-Dalam.

Authorities stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places. 

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 

The regions of Asir, Al-Baha, Jazan, Najran, Madinah, Hail, Tabuk, Al-Jawf, the northern borders, Al-Qasim and the eastern borders are also expected to be affected.

Moderate rains and winds resulting in dust storms are expected in the Makkah region, including Jeddah and Rabigh.

The Civil Defense has stressed the need to stay away from areas where torrents gather, and not to swim in dangerous places.

Residents have been advised to adhere to instructions announced through the media. 


Jeddah authorities destroy 40 tons of ‘unsafe’ meals

Updated 45 min 49 sec ago

Jeddah authorities destroy 40 tons of ‘unsafe’ meals

JEDDAH: Local health authorities destroyed 40 tons of Ramadan meals in Umm Al-Salam in a building that was used to process and store food.

It came as part of the municipality’s efforts to combat health violations and improve the urban landscape, as well as monitor standards in commercial and health institutions, contributing to the safety and security of citizens and visitors.

The municipality said that inspection teams examined a building in Al-Mahameed neighborhood that was used as a warehouse to prepare and store pastries and desserts.

Inspectors found that food was processed near restrooms, and discovered insects and expired items, in addition to improper food storage practices and poor levels of hygiene. The spoiled food items were confiscated and destroyed, and legal procedures were immediately taken to close the site.

The municipality added that it carries out inspection tours to follow up on activities related to public health. 

It commended the cooperation of citizens and residents in improving services by reporting violations through the Baladi application, or the unified center, through the phone number 940. 


Saudi, Iranian FMs set meeting on reopening of embassies, consulates

Updated 23 March 2023

Saudi, Iranian FMs set meeting on reopening of embassies, consulates

  • Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers arrived at the agreement during a phone call
  • Diplomats also exchanged greetings on the start of the holy month of Ramadan

RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran will meet soon to pave the way for reopening embassies and consulates in the two countries, Saudi state media said early Thursday.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan and his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, arrived at the agreement during a phone call, the Saudi Press Agency and Al-Ekhbariyah said in separate reports.

The diplomats also exchanged greetings on the advent of the holy month of Ramadan.

The Kingdom and Iran agreed on March 10 to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies within two months following years of tensions.

Amirabdollahian said on Sunday that three locations have been proposed for the meeting.

Saudis welcome Ramadan, a time of reflection and blessings for the Muslim world

Updated 23 March 2023

Saudis welcome Ramadan, a time of reflection and blessings for the Muslim world

  • The world’s 2 billion plus Muslims believe daytime fasting and nighttime prayers energize the faithful to lead a new life 
  • Saudi Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of festive events in 14 cities across the Kingdom

JEDDAH: Every year ahead of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, 2 billion plus Muslims around the world prepare to welcome the holy month of Ramadan. While Ramadan is commonly known for its fast, for Muslims it is more than just a month of fasting; it symbolizes reward, reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice.

Daytime fasting and nighttime prayers spiritually energize the faithful to lead a new life, benefiting the whole of humanity and opening a new chapter of peace and progress.

Worshippers pray at the Grand Mosque in Makkah on March 21, 2023, as Saudi Arabia announced that the fasting month of Ramadan will start on March 23. (AFP)

A hadith says Abu Huraira reported: “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said whoever fasts the month of Ramadan out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven, and whoever stays up during Laylat Al-Qadr out of faith and in the hope of earning reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.”

On Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported that King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman exchanged messages of congratulations with “leaders of Islamic countries on the advent of blessed month.”

Ramadan, besides being a month of fasting, is also a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.

Aside from being a time of celebration, the month of Ramadan is a time of charity. (Abdullah Al-Faleh, AFP)

The rewards of giving zakat or sadaqah — an Islamic form of almsgiving that is a central pillar of the Muslim faith — during Ramadan are doubled, and thus Muslims make sure give even more to those in need during the holy month.

Last year in Saudi Arabia, the Ehsan national campaign for charitable work received more than SR300 million ($79 million) in donations. During the first Ramadan campaign in 2021, the king and the crown prince made multiple donations through Ehsan that pushed the platform’s total funds past the SR1 billion mark.

In the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah, philanthropists commonly provide iftar (breakfast) meals to worshippers at specific locations in the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque.

Generosity extends far beyond the provision of iftar meals by the wealthy; 29-year-old Anas Al-Ghamdi from Jeddah distributes cold bottles of water and dates to people in rush hour traffic.

Al-Ghamdi and his brother have been doing this for seven years, “because Ramadan is the month of feeding the poor, and it is a chance to offer help and gain rewards.”

While fasting is one of Ramadan’s main characteristics, what happens after the fast is broken every day is just as important. Those who celebrate rejoice in the food served during gatherings with relatives and loved ones, as it represents the month’s prominent rituals.

Iftar meals are offered daily in mosques throughout the Kingdom during Ramadan. (AFP file)

Though generosity and togetherness are hallmarks of Ramadan, so too is spending.

It has become a habit to prepare for Ramadan with a feeling of newness; families go into a cleaning frenzy, decorating their houses, reorganizing furniture, giving some goods to the poor, and, of course, buying new items.

Neama Fadhel, a housewife and mother of five children, said that she likes to plan her Ramadan shopping for kitchen products, accessories and clothes, as the experience brings her joy.

Fadhel also loves buying new items for her household, especially her kitchen, as it “gives me a boost for the daily cooking routine in the holy month that differs from other normal days of the year.”

Shoppers in Jeddah enjoy purchasing Ramadan decorations and items from the annual exhibit at Jeddah International Exhibition and Convention Center. (AN Photo by Abdullah Alfaleh)

Competition is rife as entrepreneurs vie to produce new, trending goods each year to attract customers, who look forward to decorating their homes to welcome the holy month with fervor.

Sufyan Raya, senior digital marketing specialist at Al-Hadaya Center, told Arab News how demand for decorations skyrockets around Ramadan.

Al-Hadaya Center, one of the biggest gift shops and decoration retailers in the Kingdom, distributes products to other shops in the region. For retailers, the season usually begins two months before to the holy month and continues until the middle of Ramadan.

“So far, our Ramadan-only sales represented 7.6 percent of the company’s sales, with Jeddah at the forefront of sales, followed by Makkah and Riyadh. We have imported lanterns and Ramadan decoration items worth SR30 million from Egypt, India, Turkey, and China for Ramadan 2023,” Raya said, adding that more than 70 containers arrived through sea ports and airports to meet the demand.


Besides fasting, Ramadan is a month of happiness, an Islamic form of worship known as dhikr, Qur’an recital, good deeds and charity.

In a highly competitive market, Raya said, products are kept highly confidential. “We made sure that these products are well kept until they are distributed and unpacked in the stores, as some competitors copy special items and offer them at a lower quality.”

The most popular Ramadan-themed items are lanterns in various sizes and colors, twinkling lights, crescent moons and some distinctive textile-made products like “shkaly,” a printed fabric with a bright pink rose, and “khayamiya,” another popular printed fabric bearing geometric patterns.

Lanterns, an iconic symbol of the holy month, are always in high demand.

“This year, handmade Egyptian and Indian lanterns and ornamented copper, bronze and gold-plated lanterns are trending the most, and this category has achieved the highest rate of sales compared to other items,” Raya added.

Saudi women shop for traditional lanterns known in Arabic as "Fanous", sold during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at a market in the city of Jeddah. (AFP file)

Prices of lanterns vary in terms of material, shape and size, ranging from about SR1.88 to more than SR975. Mass-produced types are the cheapest, while handcrafted varieties fetch the highest prices.

While modern shopping centers and malls are replete with Ramadan merchandise, nothing beats shopping in Al-Balad, Jeddah’s historical district, where vendors and kiosks put up lights and decorations, creating a special old-meets-new Ramadan vibe.

Saleh Baeshen, one of the oldest traders in the area, told Arab News that shoppers from across the region, especially from Gulf countries, come to enjoy the “unique Ramadan vibes in the historic Al-Balad.”

Baeshen said: “Loads of vintage decoration items and huge lanterns that are usually hung in big buildings and shops” can be found in Al-Balad. Special exhibitions, which usually begin two weeks before Ramadan and continue until the first week of the holy month, are held annually to promote local products and bring joy to visitors and residents alike.

One such exhibition is being held at Al-Harthi Exhibition Center in Jeddah, with more than 200 local and regional brands taking part.

The exhibition is held annually two weeks prior to the holy month with over 200 participating brands. (AN Photo by Abdullah Alfaleh)

Khidr Ismael, who came all the way from Egypt to take part in the exhibition, said that he inherited the trade of making lanterns from his ancestors. At the exhibition, he offers Ramadan decorations, such as Ramadan-themed printed fabrics, utensils with Arabic and Islamic inscriptions, furnishings, lighting and tents.

“The crescent-shaped lanterns are trending this year; it is available in the two-meter size … and this year we are offering stainless steel lanterns that have better quality and longevity,” he said.

Vendors are all set for the influx of Muslims from all over the world at a market in the western Saudi city of MadinaH. (AFP)

The Culinary Arts Commission has also launched the Ramadan Market in Jeddah, which will run until March 22. The market displays local culinary and Ramadan products, including baked goods, sweets, dates, spices, coffee, nuts, honey, toys, clothes and antiques.

For families coming to enjoy the holiday, the market hosts spaces such as a children’s area and activities including drawing, photography and henna. It will also serve as an opportunity for local vendors to display their products.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture has launched Ramadan Season, a series of events that will take place in 14 cities across Saudi Arabia and will be held in more than 38 locations. Ramadan Season offers a variety of experiences, including cultural, educational and entertainment events with a distinct Ramadan look.