Iraqi-Saudi Relations and Opportunities for Transformation into a Strategic Partnership

Muhannad Ahmed Al-Faraj*


This study aims to highlight the nature of Iraqi-Saudi political relations due to the importance of studying political relations and the regional weight that the two countries are featured of, and the extent of the impact of political events in the Arab region on the nature of political relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and the attitudes of the two countries on these events.

Many factors played a role influencing the Iraqi-Saudi political relations, most notably the historical legacy of the relations of Saudi-Hashemite and the difference in ideological trends between the two countries. The Iraqi-Saudi dispute over oil policy and how to benefit from this great wealth in the service of Arab issues shaped a factor of tension in the Iraqi-Saudi relations. Relations were not over one pace, which was always dominated by tension and suspicion after the political equation in Iraq has changed after 2003, as Iraq has witnessed many internal changes and radical transformations, as well as the regional and international environment also witnessed major transformations.


In general, the principles of the Iraqi foreign policy after 2003 came to express the form and type of political change in Iraq and the new Iraqi foreign political aspirations for the Iraqi state, in order to maintain its foreign policy and build a positive image among the countries of the region in particular, and the world in general, based on erasing the negative political image of Iraq before 2003, and to convince everyone, especially the neighboring countries, of the feasibility of building a strong, democratic Iraq. Despite that, it cannot be said that the Iraqi state was able to define its interests and objectives in its foreign policy during the past stages. This includes several considerations, including what the Iraqi arena has witnessed of many events, the internal divisions, and regional rivalries of the neighbors of Iraq has made it possible to implement their own agenda.

On another hand, regarding the Iraqi-Saudi relations, the political relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia witnessed a prominent presence in the recent period after a series of visits by officials of the two countries to review several understandings between them. This rapprochement came to bear several political and economic interests that serve the two countries in the efforts of the two sides to develop mutual visions to serve their bilateral relations.

 First: Contexts of Rapprochement between Iraq and Saudi Arabia:

As it is known in the formulation of the foreign policies of many countries that there are no long-term relations without a mutual interest between the two parties to the relationship and the strengthening of allies is one of the most important points that Iraq needs in its foreign policy, and then the effects that should result from that serve the general basis of this idea, especially Iraq is in dire need of a balanced regional foreign investment to enhance stability and reduce the conflicts on its soil.

Despite the gradual normalization of Iraq’s relations with its Arab neighbors after 2003, the normalization of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia was only possible with the change of administration in the two countries, where a new era began in Iraqi-Saudi relations with the formation of a new government headed by former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi in 2014 and King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz who became king of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2015, and accordingly Saudi Arabia appointed its ambassador to Iraq in the last days of 2015 for the first time since the Gulf War.

After the liberation of Iraqi lands in 2017, which was occupied by the terrorist organization ISIS, a qualitative development occurred in the course of Iraqi-Saudi relations, which was represented by the Saudi rush towards Iraq to consolidate relations. The first visit of a Saudi foreign minister to visit Iraq since 2003, and as stated in the government program approved on May 6, 2020, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazimi promised that foreign policy would be based on the principles of “”sovereignty, balance and cooperation””, and the principles of the foreign policy followed by Al-Kazimi’s government were significantly compatible with the principles of foreign policy adopted by the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Haider Al-Abadi.

Second: Dimensions of rapprochement between Iraq and Saudi Arabia and its outcomes on both parties:

Recent years have witnessed a state of stability. This was clear in the exchange of visits and telegrams on several occasions, and the media discourse of the two countries has been free of any political escalation, and the media discourse began to tend to softness and calls for cooperation.

1- The political dimension:

This rapprochement came to carry a number of political interests that serve the two countries. The opening of the Arar crossing, the main border gate between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in November 2020, after 29 years of closure, represented one of the most tangible steps during Al-Kazimi period in developing relations between the two countries. Iraq has also adopted a policy of not being a party in the alliances between the neighbouring countries as a result of the policy of balance and respect for the rights of sovereignty that it has adopted. Therefore, in the recent Gulf crisis that began in 2017, in which it rejected the boycott imposed on Qatar, and it was a caller for reconciliation, the American newspaper (Al-Monitor) published an important article in May 2020 that in which the Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazimi affirmed that “Iraqi-Saudi relations are the main key to problems and solutions to crises in the Middle East” and that relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia are not an option, but a strategic duty between the two countries and it must be expanded.

2- The economic dimension:

The economic file is the most important file during these visits, and many economic projects have been agreed upon. Therefore, the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council met in October 2020 in Riyadh, headed by the Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih and the Iraqi Minister of Planning Khalid Najm. The Saudi Minister of Investment explained that investment opportunities in Iraq were discussed, especially in the fields of energy, industry and agriculture, he added in the scope of the council meeting that the volume of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s investments in Iraq is currently around $530 million and that the Kingdom aims to increase its investments in Iraq by nearly five times to reach $2.6 billion, and after a month fFrom this meeting, the Saudi Crown Prince held an (online) meeting with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi on 10/11/2020, during which the fourth session of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council was reviewed and the outcomes of the previous sessions and agreements that serve to strengthen relations between the two countries. It was also announced in February 18, 2021 Iraq’s intention to open a new border crossing with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia through the Najaf Governorate to be a window for cooperation, increase trade exchange, and facilitate the movement of pilgrims between the two countries and to be a qualitative spur for the momentum of relations between the two countries.

3- The security dimension:

The change in the balance of world powers had an influential role in the policy of rapprochement between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as the expansion of the Chinese-Russian role in the region and their political moves towards ensuring their interests and holding partnership understandings with Iran might pose an existential threat to the Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. Also, the American withdrawal in the region and the adoption of the United States for military disengagement strategy in the Arab region is considered a major motive for the Gulf states to move diplomatically and militarily to ensure their national and security interests. Both Iraq and Saudi Arabia share wide borders, and Iran and its agenda in the region constitute the security threat that threatens the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states. Therefore, the Iraqi-Saudi rapprochement has effects on the Iranian file and access to mutual points that enable security and peace in the region.



Third: The future of Iraqi-Saudi political relations:

The relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia are witnessing an advanced stage of rapprochement and transcending the non-optional estrangement stage, and the possibility of an Iraqi-Saudi diplomatic breakthrough was represented by high-level official meetings at the beginning of 2017, and then the official meeting on the side lines of the Arab summit meeting between King Salman and former Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi. The meetings represented a breakthrough after more than 16 years of diplomatic estrangement between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as this step represented a serious start that can be relied upon regarding the restoration of diplomatic relations. The rapprochement is much deeper than the will and desire of the two countries, as there is a comprehensive change in the behaviour of the two countries towards some strategic issues, including a change in the nature of the political systems of the two countries, opening the Saudi embassy in Baghdad and then strengthening border control agreements between the two countries, exchanging prisoners and signing memorandums of understanding regarding investments, especially inside Iraq.


The official visits between Iraq and Saudi Arabia came in light of a number of political and economic contexts, and there is no doubt that it will have a direct impact on a number of files, perhaps not as ambitious as it is hoped for, especially since the Iraqi side is aware of the timing of official visits and the political messages that Saudi Arabia wants to deliver through it in the file of investing in the relationship of Iraq and Iran and strengthening the indirect dialogue between them. Therefore, perhaps the repercussions of this development in the political relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, especially in the political, economic and security file will remain in relative development.


Muhannad Ahmed Al-Faraj/ An Iraqi Researcher