RIYADH: A large Iraqi delegation, featuring government departments and representatives from the private sector, has arrived in Saudi Arabia to take part in a host of events, talks and opening ceremonies to cement ties between the two nations.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was greeted by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and held high-level talks with both on a number of topics, ranging from bilateral cooperation in defense to shared investment projects.
He also met with the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, who congratulated him on the recent defeat of the militant group Daesh by Iraqi and coalition forces.
Abdul Mahdi was also the guest of honor at the opening ceremony of a major exhibition, “Age Old Cities Destroyed by Terrorism,” at the National Museum in Riyadh.
Abdul Mahdi later signed a number of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and briefly joined discussions between his country’s oil ministry and the Kingdom’s minister of commerce and investment, Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qassabi, before leaving Riyadh for an official visit to Jeddah.
Elsewhere, there were a number of bilateral departmental meetings between Iraqi and Saudi government ministers to discuss various areas of mutual interest and cooperation.
Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Ali Al-Hakim met with his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir; Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Sheikh, the Kingdom’s education minister, held talks with Iraq’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Dr. Qusay Abdul Wahab Al-Suhail; and there were further meetings between other ministries concerning energy, agriculture, infrastructure, food and health.
The visit also saw important developments in the financial relations between the two states, as Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) became the first Iraqi bank to open a branch in Saudi Arabia after unveiling its first foreign premises in Riyadh on Thursday.
The branch office in Al-Olayya district was officially opened by Fuad Hussein, Iraq’s deputy prime minister. He was joined at the ceremony by Ahmed Al-Khulaifi, the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, and Faisal Al-Haimus, chairman of TBI.
The bank was established shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the US-led coalition, whose provisional authorities used it to facilitate stagnant trade and kickstart the economy following the conclusion of initial hostilities and the start of the occupation, coupled with the end of the UN’s 1995 Oil-for-Food Programme. Around 80 percent of TBI is controlled by the Iraqi government.
“This is a hugely significant day for the financial sector of Iraq and the country as a whole,” said Hussein. “This is an important step toward reinforcing our relationship with the Saudi government, and we look forward to advancing bilateral ties between our countries.”
Speaking to Arab News, Al-Haimus said: “This is a very important step, as all trade between any two countries requires financing. Our Riyadh branch will provide the funds and assistance to facilitate that trade, and will increase the present level, currently around $500 million annually, to about $4 billion by next year.”