RIYADH/BAGHDAD – Saudi Arabia and Iraq plan to open the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time since 1990, when it was closed after the countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, Saudi media reported on Tuesday.
Saudi and Iraqi officials toured the site on Monday and spoke with Iraqi religious pilgrims, who for the past 27 years had access to the crossing only once annually during the Hajj season, the Mecca newspaper reported.
The governor of Iraq’s southwestern Anbar province, whose staff was on hand for the ceremonies, said the Iraqi government had deployed troops to protect the desert route leading to Arar and called its opening a “significant move” to boost ties.
“This is a great start for further future cooperation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Sohaib al-Rawi.
The announcement follows a decision by the Saudi cabinet on Monday to establish a joint trade commission with Iraq.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are both wooing their northern neighbour in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of arch-foe Iran.
Iraq lies on the fault line between Shia Muslim power Iran and Sunni-ruled countries that are its regional arch-rivals, chief among them Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this month, Iraq’s influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other officials, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Sadr’s office said his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman resulted in an agreement for Saudi Arabia to donate $10m in aid to the Iraqi government and study possible investments in Shia regions of southern Iraq.
opening of border crossings for trade was also on a list of goals for the talks published by Sadr’s office.
Sadr commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, and is one of few Iraqi Shia leaders to keep some distance from Tehran.
Also Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad in February, and the two countries announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties.