Iraq and Saudi Arabia opened the Arar border crossing for trade purposes. This has happened for the first time since 1990.
Iraqi interior minister and the Saudi ambassador to Iraq, travelled from Baghdad to formally open Arar. A line of cargo trucks had been waiting at this border since Wednesday morning.
According to the statement, the border crossing will be open to goods and people. A delegation from Riyadh was to open the Saudi Arabian side of the border.
Arar had previously remained closed due to the countries severed ties following former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s Kuwait invasion.
Ties remained rocky since 1990 and did not improve after Saddam’s fall in the 2003 US-led invasion. Riyadh looked at the new Shia-dominated political class with suspicion due to their ties to its regional rival Iran.
Friendly and warm gestures began in 2017 when Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir travelled to Baghdad. This was followed by a Riyadh trip by the Iraqi Prime Minister at that time, Haider al-Abadi.
Commercial flights between the two countries resumed. Officials began discussing Arar with US diplomat Brett McGurk. Visits to the border crossing began in 2017 to support its reopening.
Plans to reestablish the border were repeatedly delayed, with Arar only open occasionally to allow Iraqi religious pilgrims on their way to Mecca for Hajj.
Current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is said to have a close relationship with de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Al-Kadhimi’s first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia as Prime Minister was cancelled last minute due to King Salman being hospitalized.
Although Iraqi ministers have visited Riyadh to meet their counterparts, al-Kadhimi has yet to make the trip. A top-level Saudi delegation travelled to Baghdad last week.
Pro-Iran divisions in Iraq have stood firmly against closer ties with Saudi Arabia.
Ahead of Arar’s opening, one such group, identifying itself as Ashab al-Kahf, published a statement announcing its “rejection of the Saudi project in Iraq”.
Al-Kadhimi opposed their statements and said that the Saudi investment could bring in a flood of new jobs to Iraq, where more than one-third of youth are unemployed.
Iraq is the second-largest producer in the OPEC oil organisation, outranked only by Saudi Arabia.