Saudi delegation visits Baghdad to boost economic ties

Riyadh hopes to combat Tehran's increasing influence in the region

Vehicles are seen on a street in Baghdad, Iraq March 4, 2019. Picture taken March 4, 2019.  REUTERS/Saba Alnajjar NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

Iraqi and Saudi ministers are expected to meet in Baghdad on Wednesday to boost economic ties as Riyadh tries to fend off Tehran's influence in the region.

A high ministerial delegation led by Saudi Trade Minister Dr Majid Al Kassabi arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday  for the second meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordination Council.

In October 2017, two months before Iraq declared victory over ISIS, the countries established the Council, to help rebuild devastated areas retaken from the militants in Iraq.

The delegation is made up of 100 officials and several ministers that include the Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah, Minister of Environment Abdul Rahman Al Fadhil and the Minister of State for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al Subhan, the Saudi press agency reported.

They are expected to meet Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

"The Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council will hold a series of meetings and discussions related to the border crossings, investments opportunities, pilgrimage, customs and other strategic topics," the premier said on Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

He also announced that he will visit the Kingdom, but did not specify a date.

"Our foreign policy is built on dialogue and engagement, we want to build co-operation and work on mutually beneficial policies with our regional partners and allies," Mr Abdul Mahdi said.

Iraq is seeking economic benefits from closer ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The two states have  several projects that includes the reopening of the Arar border crossing for trade in October.

Construction of a border compound on the frontier with the Kingdom started last month.

The project is being funded and implemented by MASCO, a Saudi construction company,  the same group responsible for the railway project linking Makkah to Madinah.

Baghdad and Riyadh's rapprochement goes back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia opened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year absence.

The development comes as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Iraq last month in efforts to shore up Tehran's influence in the country.

Observers said that the trip sent a strong message to US President Donald Trump and regional allies that Tehran still dominates Baghdad.

Mr Rouhani stressed that he wants deeper political and economic ties between the two states during a press conference with Mr Salih.

Although Iran and Iraq fought a long war from 1980 to 1988, Tehran's influence expanded after the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled former dictator Saddam Hussein.