What strengthening Saudi-Iraq relations means to the region

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Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, left, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his first official trip to Riyadh last month. (AFP)
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An Iraqi protester holds up an Iranian flag as another sets fire to it during demonstrations in Basra in 2018. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2019

What strengthening Saudi-Iraq relations means to the region

  • A recent agreement between the two countries could help counter Iran’s actions
  • Co-operation between the two will bring more stability, experts say

DUBAI: Stronger relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq will mean more stability in the region, particularly when it comes to stemming the influence of Iran, according to experts who commented on a recent agreement promoting co-operation between the two countries.
Exerting more influence in Iraq will prove crucial for the Kingdom, they explained, as Iran’s close relationship with the former causes concern among many neighboring countries. Security and intelligence are some of the areas in which Iraq and Saudi Arabia will cooperate in the near future, Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Alhakim was reported as saying.
The announcement came during a state visit last month by an Iraqi delegation to Saudi Arabia led by Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who met King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The leaders signed 13 agreements in areas such as trade, energy and political cooperation.
According to experts, Saudi Arabia may have the best chance of bringing stability and security to Iraq. “These actions are based on an economic and security approach, having intelligence as a key element to project all potential scenarios, including countering Iran’s possible actions to alter this relation,” said Johan Obdola, president of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.
“Iran will be facing, from the United States and Europe, the hardest actions, including additional sanctions. On the other hand, there is a momentum in Iraq, with an increasing interest from a vast majority of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, to stop the influence of Iran in Iraq.”
Obdola said this will create an important opportunity for Saudi Arabia to establish a strong security and intelligence strategy with Iraq, along with economic investments, to stabilize it against the actions of Daesh.
“This toxic influence from Iran has reached a level of rejection within the Iraqi population,” he said. “With this announced security and intelligence cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, there is very much an opportunity to stabilize and reconstruct Iraq, strengthen military and intelligence capabilities, and get a better capacity to counter any actions from Iran in the region, and even abroad.”
Obdola expressed concern about Iran implementing new low-intensity actions against the Arab Gulf states, with even more serious security implications for the rest of the region and abroad.
“The Iranian regime’s actions in Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq show its confidence regarding a lack of direct retaliation from the international community,” he said. “This will change if Iran keeps (up) this disruptive behavior. Iran is still building military and terrorist capabilities, and networks in other regions around the world to create conditions which will impact the US and European forces established in Africa, including Central Africa.”
On Yemen, he said, the Houthis had frequently stated their tactics were modelled on those of the Viet Cong and resistance movements in Latin America, as well as Lebanon’s Shia Hezbollah, with which they have obvious kinship.
“Both Hezbollah and Iran have increased their provision of guns, missiles, military training and funds for the Houthi war effort since 2014, (pleased) to see their Saudi enemies expend soldiers and money on the Yemeni stalemate,” he said. “We must also be aware that there are old and new alliances in this scenario, including Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iran, among other actors, who must be closely watched.”
Obdola spoke of Saudi Arabia’s strong military capacity and intelligence, supported by its allies in the GCC, and military cooperation with other nations. “However, Iran has global intelligence and terrorist networks which must be analyzed and approached by traditional and non-traditional intelligence strategies,” he said. “Iran’s military apparatus will not be used against Saudi Arabia — it is not projected, at least — and it could be a huge mistake if there is any intention to. Its actions are and will continue to be based on a more low-level, low-intensity, and irregular warfare, and as such, the intelligence strategy of Riyadh must be developed and implemented accordingly.”
According to Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defense College in Abu Dhabi, the Saudi Arabia-Iraq rapprochement was born out of domestic change within Iraq. He mentioned the demonstrations by the Shiite majority region of Basra, which have shown the extent of general Iraqi discontent with Iran’s hegemony over their country. “The assertiveness of Kurds, especially the uncompromised new president Barham Salih, and determination not to be a pawn (of) any geopolitical competition, led to Iraq’s willingness to get closer to the Saudi-led order,” he said. “Finally, Iran’s gradual weakening as a result of the US pressure and sanctions may have contributed to Baghdad’s hedging its bets.”
He said both Saudi Arabia and Iraq stood to benefit from cooperation in many fields, especially security in the post-Daesh Middle East. “As the terrorist group is splintering into smaller cells, monitoring and coordination by all countries are necessary to avoid a repetition of the Al-Qaeda post-Afghanistan situation,” he said. “Another issue of the smuggling of narcotics between the two countries is of increasing demand. The security cooperation between Saddam’s Iraq and Saudi Arabia, prior to the former’s invasion of Kuwait, could serve as a model of security cooperation between the two countries.”
Funding is also a key element of the cooperation. Raffaello Pantucci, director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies in London, foresees much financial support from the Kingdom for Iraq. “There could also be capacity-building and worrying about the regional threat — Saudis are worrying about groups emanating from Iraq, and about managing their relationship with Iran, as Iraq has a strong relationship with Iran.”
He said it would be complicated, with militias involved in the Iraqi government. “But Saudi Arabia has money, and they can use that to get themselves access and influence,” he said. “Saudis are trying to make sure they are buying themselves an influence in a neighboring country where Iran has a lot of influence — there is a big push happening in Iran, and a part of that is for Saudi Arabia to have an influence in Baghdad.”
Iraq is of great geostrategic importance for Iran, Obdola said. “So a multi-dimensional intelligence component, along with a strong military cooperation, are the most fundamentally important elements for any security cooperation to be effective,” he said.
“This is truly the key component here, having the facts of not only regional players in any scenario to be considered, but potentially more global actors who could, in any particular situation, be used against Saudi Arabia. If all intelligence and security scenarios are projected in a local, regional and even international arena, then Saudi Arabia will be successful in this needed security cooperation with Iraq.”


Saudi rights body calls for law against underage marriages

Updated 12 November 2019

Saudi rights body calls for law against underage marriages

  • SHRC said it has studied the matter with a number of concerned agencies
  • SHRC said enacting such a law would protect children and maintain their rights

JEDDAH: The Saudi Human Rights Commission (SHRC), the Kingdom’s official human rights institution, has recommended the immediate issuing of a law to ban marriages to people under the age of 18.

It has also warned guardians that preventing daughters aged over 18 from getting married is a crime for which they will be held accountable.

The SHRC said it has studied the matter with a number of concerned agencies, and there are many negative effects of getting married under the age of 18.

It also noted that the Child Protection Law holds parents and caregivers accountable for children’s upbringing and protecting them from abuse.

Human rights activist Dr. Matouq Al-Sharif said the SHRC, in its statement, is drawing attention to practices by guardians that are contrary to international conventions, in particular the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the Kingdom via the commission.

“Based on the Paris Principles, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993, the SHRC was granted the right to provide the (Saudi) government with advisory opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.

He added that the SHRC is responsible for ensuring that national legislation, regulations and practices harmonize with the international human rights conventions that the Kingdom has signed.

“One of the tasks of this institution is to follow up on the implementation of such formal pacts, and make sure it is effective,” Al-Sharif said.

“From some people’s point of view, Islam gives a guardian the right to wed his daughter. They claim that the Prophet Mohammed married Aisha when she was still 9 or 11, according to some narratives,” Al-Sharif said.

“However, authentic senior Muslim scholars have denied that and said the prophet asked for her hand when she was at that age. They confirm that the wedding was when Aisha was no longer a child.”

The human rights activist noted that the SHRC’s statement is a message to the relevant authorities to enact a law that rejects ideas that are contrary to Islam.

Al-Sharif said that the commission has long sought to change the belief that under-age marriages are permissible.

“It has even interfered to stop a number of marriages to minors in different parts of the country. Moreover, it has issued a medical study in cooperation with the Health Ministry. The study highlighted the health risks to minors of such marriages,” he said.

According to Al-Sharif, the SHRC received a letter from the ministry stating that it had conducted a study on the issue and found serious health risks associated with such marriages.

“The Health Ministry … listed a number of health risks, including osteoporosis … due to lack of calcium, anaemia, abortions, acute high blood pressure that may lead to kidney failure, pelvis and spinal deformities, and many other risks,” he said.

In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the SHRC said enacting such a law would protect children and maintain their rights.

The statement added that many studies have proven that underage marriages have negative physical and psychological effects. It said local and international laws consider people under the age of 18 as children.

The SHRC also issued a statement describing families preventing their adult daughters from marrying as a clear violation of human rights.

The SHRC stressed that Saudi law criminalizes such actions, and that the appropriate authorities would deal with any reported cases. It added that under Shariah law, any woman experiencing such treatment could file a lawsuit.

It has called on relevant authorities to help raise awareness among women about their rights, and to highlight the penalties for those who violate the law.