Iraqi PM to visit Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip

After nearly half a year in office, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi will soon be making his first foreign trip – going to Saudi Arabia, highlighting Iraq’s position as part of the Arab world after Baghdad’s warm welcome of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Abdul-Mahdi revealed his trip, though without giving a date, after a meeting with Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid bin Abdullah al-Qasabi and the influential Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan on Thursday.

The visiting Saudi delegation is largely focused on economics and investment.

“His Excellency emphasized his determination to move ahead with expanding bilateral ties and for the joint discussions to result in important agreements during his upcoming visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” read a statement from Abdul-Mahdi’s office.

Iraq places “strategic importance” on bilateral ties with Saudi Arabia and has a policy of opening up towards neighboring countries, the prime minister added.

The Saudi side reportedly relayed their “keenness” to cooperate with Iraq on the economy, oil, and electricity and rebuilding the war-torn nation.

This will be the first foreign trip made by the prime minister since he assumed the post last October. He had previously explained that he abstained from traveling because he wanted to first organize things in his administration. Abdul-Mahdi came to power after a summer of deadly riots and demands from an angry populace that he tackle corruption.

Iraq and Saudi Arabia are in the early stages of rebuilding ties that were cut when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and then further damaged under former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. Their relations improved under Abdul-Mahdi’s predecessor Haider al-Abadi and the current prime minister is “keen to maintain and expand these ties,” said Dr Nussaibah Younis, senior adviser at the European Institute of Peace.

“Although Iraq’s ties with Saudi Arabia remain relatively superficial, especially as compared with the extensive relationship with Iran, the Prime Minister understands the importance of positioning Iraq as a part of the Arab world,” she explained.

Sandwiched between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iraq wants to maintain good relations with both its neighbours. Baghdad this week gave a very warm welcome to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani who spent three days in the country, signing a plethora of deals and meeting with influential cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Since the days of Abadi, the Iraqi government has tried to balance relations with its neighbours, saying Iraq should be an area where interests meet, not fight against each other.

By choosing Saudi Arabia as his first destination, Abdul-Mahdi will “build on the extensive diplomacy that President Barham Salih has carried out throughout the Arab world, and there are hopes that it will lead to some additional Saudi investment in Iraq reconstruction,” predicted Younis.

Iraq needs a lot of cash to rebuild its smashed cities and disintegrating infrastructure after years of conflict and Riyadh has been willing to participate in that reconstruction. The kingdom has said that the Kurdistan Region could serve as an entry point for largescale investment projects.

Saudi Minister for Gulf Affairs Thamer al-Sabhan, who is close to crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, also met Iraq’s National Security Advisor Falah al-Fayyadh and Mohammed al-Hakeem, Iraq’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, discussing strengthening bilateral ties.

“Minister Sabhan pointed out that Iraq’s stability contributes to the stability in the area, expressing the Kingdom’s readiness to rebuild Iraq and undertaking investment projects in the agricultural sector,” read a statement from Iraq’s foreign ministry. Source