Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The office of Iraq’s prime minister called for greater Arab investment in Iraq on Monday, saying Arab firms should break the “monopoly” held by Turkish and Iranian companies, on the same day Iran’s vice-president began a three-day official visit to Iraq.
“Iraq needs its Arab neighbors to open themselves up to it economically and in terms of investment, so that this area no longer remains monopolized by Iranian and Turkish firms,” Rafid Al-Jabouri, a spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“We call on all Arab countries, especially neighboring ones—and at their head, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE—to enter promising Iraqi markets, and to have a strong economic, trade, and investment presence in the country,” the prime minister’s spokesman added.
Iraq is one of Iran’s top trading partners, with bilateral trade reaching 12 billion US dollars in 2014, according to the Iran–Iraq Joint Chamber of Commerce.
Iran invests 10 billion dollars a year in the country, according to official Iraqi figures.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s annual investments amount to 15 billion dollars and the country’s imports accounted for 33 percent of goods bought by Iraq last year, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
There are numerous Iranian companies with investments in Iraq and a number of Iranian banks—including one of Iran’s largest, Melli Bank—with branches in the country.
Last month an Iranian contractor won a tender to construct a 186-mile (300-kilometer), 132-kilovolt power grid and transmission cable in the country, a project worth 40 million dollars.
Despite both countries going to war during the 1980s, relations have improved drastically since the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003, following the US-led invasion of Iraq.
Iraq’s relationship with its Arab neighbors, on the other hand, took an opposite trajectory, with relations turning frosty with particularly its Gulf neighbors since its invasion of neighbor Kuwait in 1990.
But there have been recent signs of improvement in these relations following the replacement of Nuri Al-Maliki, whose policies angered many in Iraq and the region, with Prime Minister Abadi.
Saudi Arabia, which withdrew its ambassador from Iraq and shut down its embassy there shortly after the invasion of Kuwait, announced last month it would be reopening its embassy in Baghdad.
The announcement came on the heels of a number of official whistle-stop visits made by Abadi, Speaker of Parliament Salim Al-Jabouri, and President Fuad Masoum to Riyadh in the space of a few months.
Also last month, Kuwait’s Al-Nasriyah Company won a 45-year, 1.35-billion-dollar contract to build and operate an airport in Iraq’s southern Diwaniyah province, with the company’s chief executive Sheikha Eman Nasser Sabah Al-Nasser Al-Sabah saying the deal would pave the way for further Gulf investment in Iraq.
Several memorandums of understanding were signed on Monday between Iran and Iraq as part of an official first by Iran’s senior-most vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, Jabouri told Asharq Al-Awsat, though he did not give further details.
According to a statement issued by Abadi’s office on Monday, Iran will support building railways and petroleum pipelines in Iraq, among a number of other projects.
Jabouri also said both men discussed a number of security issues during the first day of the visit.
As part of his three-day visit, Jahangiri is also due to meet with President Masoum and Parliament Speaker Jabouri as well as head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq Amar Al-Hakim and other Shi’ite figures and politicians, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency said.