Iraq has kicked off the construction of a border compound on the frontier with Saudi Arabia, in bid to boost ties between the two. Supervised by the Iraqis and funded by the Saudis, the structure is expected to house a customs department, a hospital and health centre and a university.
Baghdad and Riyadh announced plans to open the Arar border crossing in 2017 for trade for the first time since 1990, when it closed after the two countries cut ties following former dictator Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.
“A government complex has been set up in the Arar area, which lies 400 kilometres southwest of Ramadi,” Mohammed Hamoud, the director of communications of Anbar province's council said on Tuesday.
The project is being funded and implemented by a Saudi construction company called MASCO, the same group responsible for the railway project linking Makkah to Madina. Meanwhile Anbar’s local government say they have formed a team to oversee the project.
Iraq’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Khatan Taha Khalaf said on Twitter in January that the two states are working on opening the Arar border crossing “as quickly as possible.”
The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been working to strengthen relations with Iraq in an effort to halt the growing regional influence of Iran. Iraq is seeking economic benefits from closer ties with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, a leading Dubai-based Saudi owned entertaining group announced in January that it will launch a premium television channel geared towards generating an Iraqi audience.
The Middle East Broadcasting Center, MBC, will broadcast an Iraqi channel which will showcase a selection of Iraqi programmes.
The launch, expected to take place this month, will be part of MBC’s five-year plan to “grow throughout the region” according to the statement.
MBC is known as the biggest entertainment group in the region.
The company’s relations with “Iraqi viewers has been ongoing for years, primarily through televising Iraqi dramas that feature Iraqi talent including singers and many other television stars,” MBC said.
Many Iraqis contributed to the establishment of the channel in the early 1990s, especially in the technical and production side.
The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.
Former Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir visited Baghdad in February 2016.
In October 2017, two months before Iraq declared victory over ISIS, the countries established the Iraqi-Saudi Joint Coordination Council, to help rebuild devastated areas retaken from the militants in Iraq.