A delegation of Saudi officials and businessmen is visiting Erbil. Photo: Mohammed Shwani/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A visiting delegation from Riyadh agreed with KRG officials to open economic ties with the Kurdistan Region as a starting point for Saudi investment in Iraq.
"Following the completion of the first round of a conference of Saudi investors with members of the Kurdistan Regional Government and businessmen, we followed that there are very important investment opportunities in the Kurdistan Region," Sami Bin Abdullah al-Obeidi, head of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Commerce Chambers, told journalists on Tuesday.
Obeidi is visiting Erbil along with Abdulaziz al-Shammari, Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Faysal al-Oteibi, Saudi consul general to the Kurdistan Region, and other officials from the kingdom.
After a conference with KRG officials and members of the Kurdistan Region’s business community, Obeidi described the business environment in the Kurdistan Region as very suitable, especially considering "very robust ties" between Riyadh and Erbil.
The Kurdistan Region offered over 1,500 projects in tourism, agriculture, and other sectors in the conference with Saudi investors. No agreements were immediately made.
Saudi Arabia pledged over a billion dollars for rebuilding Iraq in the Kuwait donor conference earlier this year. KRG officials hope some of this sum can be spent on strategic projects in the Kurdistan Region.
"The projects in the Kurdistan Region, whether public or private, were showcased to them and the opportunities that there are. They would like to work here. We hope at the end of these talks that our Saudi friends work on some projects in the Kurdistan Region," Dara Jalil Khayat, head of the Trade and Industry Chamber of the Kurdistan Region, told journalists.
Saudi Ambassador Shammari said they were impressed with the presentation.
"The investment law in the Kurdistan Region is a unique and attractive law for investment,” he told Rudaw, adding that many of the visiting Saudi businessmen “showed interest in building a complete industrial city in the Kurdistan Region.”
The Saudi delegation arrived in Erbil on Monday and met with KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
They discussed investment and trade, “specifically focusing on fields of shared interest, such as industry, agriculture, and tourism,” read a statement from Barzani’s office.
“They agreed that the Kurdistan Region could be a first step and a centre for the initiation of economic, trade, work, and investment activities in all of Iraq,” the readout added.
Among the connections discussed were direct flights between them and opening Saudi banks in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
Barzani “showed all readiness for supporting and facilitating Saudi Arabian investment in the Kurdistan Region… He hopes in the near future practical steps are taken for strengthening bilateral ties,” the KRG statement read.
Saudi Arabia’s regional influence makes it an important ally.
"In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has a very strong position. It is very, very important for us,” Majid Sidiq, member of Erbil's Chamber of Commerce, told Rudaw.
His organization would like to establish a joint chamber of commerce with Saudi traders.
While Erbil and Riyadh cozied up, an official from Iraq’s Shiite Fatih coalition that has ties with Iran, denounced the Saudi visit.
“Saudi Arabia has dirty hidden intentions by opening ties with Kurdistan. It wants to split Iraq and weaken it from within Iraqi soil,” Askandar Watwut told Baghdad Today.
He urged the federal government to take a firm stance against Saudi-Kurdish cooperation.
Baghdad is restoring relations with Riyadh, nearly three decades after ties were cut when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said regional rivals must not fight their battles on Iraqi soil.