Rasanah and al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies Hold Joint Webinar on the Future of Saudi-Iraqi Relations


The International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah) held on Wednesday, December 30, 2020, a joint webinar with al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies titled, “ The Future of Saudi-Iraqi Relations,” in which several academics and researchers participated. Member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council Dr. Fayez al-Shehri was the moderator and the panelists were: Director General of al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies Ali Bonyan; Founder and President of Rasanah Dr. Mohammed Alsulami; Dean of Political Science College at al-Nahrain University Dr. Ali Fares Hamid; Salem al-Yami, an advisor and political researcher.
Dr. Shehri started the webinar by welcoming the panelists and the guests, stressing that the deep-rooted historic relationship between the Iraqi and Saudi people spans hundreds of years and the leaders of the two countries are keen to maintain their bilateral political relations.
Director General of al-Nahrain Center for Strategic Studies Ali Bonyan said that Iraq sees Saudi Arabia as a significant partner. The Saudi role in regional dialogue in the Arabian Gulf and the Middle East cannot be ignored. There are institutions and individuals that distort relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. He stated that he and the National Security Adviser, Qassem al-Araji are keen to establish an elite partnership with Saudi Arabia to craft plans and programs which strengthen the Islamic identity between the two countries and their peoples. Bonyan underpinned that it is important for think tanks and research centers in the two countries to contribute to formal decision making that leads to cooperation at the governmental level. Iraq has been facing regional and international interventions, which led to the establishment of internal military apparatuses such as the PMF to defend Iraq. This has made the government lose its grip at home on several fronts. The Iraqi prime minister initiated a government program to limit weapons outside state control.
Founder and President of Rasanah Dr. Mohammed Alsulami stated that all Saudis share one concern: Iraq should work to comprehensively restore its sovereignty to regain its significant pioneering role. It is necessary to open investment and trade partnerships between the two brotherly countries. Saudi Arabia is keen to open up with Iraq further. Stemming from its national, Arab and geographical identity, Riyadh proposed several initiatives and sent positives messages to Iraq; most prominently the Saudi King’s support to the Iraqi people in combating the coronavirus pandemic. He also mentioned that the reopening of the Arar border crossing is significant to receive Iraqi pilgrims and for trade. There is a Saudi initiative within the framework of projects proposed for the reconstruction of Iraq at the Kuwait conference to collaborate with factories in Al-Diwaniyah and Al-Anbar. According to Dr. Alsulami, the Saudi-Iraqi relationship in relation to investment and trade faces four main obstacles: administrative/financial corruption; bureaucracy; security concerns; and infrastructure. The Saudi-Iraqi relationship is impacted by political disagreement in the region. He clarified that although we always hear that Riyadh aims to boost its relationship with Baghdad due to its political rivalry with Tehran — this is not true. “Sure, Saudi Arabia works to develop its relations with regional countries like Iraq and Turkey to ensure the interests of all parties in the region. Economic cooperation is the initial step for developing political understandings. In Iraq, the people are suffering from poverty and are in need of low-cost, good quality products, which will eventually benefit Iraqi consumers,” he added.
Dean of Political Science College at al-Nahrain University Dr. Ali Fares Hamid said, “Iraqi decision makers are usually affected by the information broadcasted in the media, whether fatwas or political opinions. Thus, we have to study this challenge in order to be able to address the cutting or freezing of relations between the two countries.” He argued that there are several steps that can be taken in this regard as follows: we need to activate the role of elite diplomacy and parliamentary diplomacy, which influences government and decision-makers. A decision could be issued by the Saudi Shura Council and al-Nahrain Center to prepare a joint meeting between the Iraqi and Saudi parliaments to contribute to pushing relations forward, given the Kingdom’s Islamic influence and sacred position. Iraq is aware of all the international variables, and the recent tour of the prime minister was purposeful and enlightening. He gives Saudi Arabia importance and considers it an influential country in the region with deep roots. Our relations are taking new paths different from those of the past. The nature of the political contests in Iraq and the country’s bureaucracy negatively impact government policies. But an approach is taking shape under the leadership of the prime minister in relation to Turkey and Iran. Furthermore, he is crafting his approach to strike a balance between them. He also highlighted that political opinions and fatwas have a significant impact, and the media plays a negative role in circulating these opinions. The scientific and well-advised decisions are the ones presented to the prime minister, not the media’s response to events.
Finally, Dr. Hamid al-Yami said, “The two countries faced several crises under the monarchy and Saddam Hussein which threatened political relations between the two countries. Following the invasion of Kuwait, relations were totally severed. Now they are restored within a broad framework resting on the following: believing in the importance of Saudi Arabia’s role in the region; a belief in political leadership and awareness of a set of historical cultural ties as well as religion, language and demographics; shared belief that normal relations are key to resolving the region’s problems; and the opening of crossings.” He underpinned that what spoils Saudi-Iraqi relations and constitutes its biggest obstacle is the unstable status of the Iraqi state since 2003, sectarianism, which is a purely Iranian creation and the multiplicity and infighting among political forces within Iraq. “I claim that the gaps do not determine the course of Saudi-Iraqi relations, however, these issues impact Iraq-Arab relations in general, and all parties await Iraq’s return to its normal sphere,” he added.
In their closing remarks, the panelists concluded that Rasanah and al-Nahrain center will boost their joint research efforts to serve in strengthening Saudi-Iraqi bilateral relations.

المعهد الدولي للدراسات الإيرانية
المعهد الدولي للدراسات الإيرانية
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