Saudi Arabia abandoned a major agricultural investment project being discussed with Iraq in its early stages due to a water deficit, according to the Iraqi government.
Unofficial sources, however, said the project was actually scrapped because of heavy pressure from Iran’s agents and proxies, including politicians and leaders of armed Shia militias.
According to these sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, Iran’s backers played a key role in pressuring Iraqi authorities to hinder the partnership that Baghdad and Riyadh had quickly begun to build.
Iraqi Agriculture Minister Muhammad al-Khafaji said that Saudi Arabia backed away from a plan to invest nearly $3 billion in Iraq’s agricultural sector because of “water shortages.”
In recent weeks, specialised Iraqi and Saudi delegations held meetings in Baghdad and Riyadh to discuss the prospect of investing in millions of acres of Iraqi desert land in the governorates of Anbar, Najaf and Muthanna.
While a final statement on the meetings was not officially released to the media, many sources confirmed that a promising agreement had been reached under which Saudi Arabia would invest nearly $3 billion in Iraq’s agricultural sector and livestock.
The Iraqi-Saudi understandings apparently alarmed Iran and pushed it to move its arms inside Iraq with the aim of thwarting the project in its early stages.
Iraqi media run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), such as the Afaq TV channel owned by Islamic Dawa party leader Nuri al-Maliki, and the Al-Ahad TV channel owned by Qais Khazali, leader of theAsa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia, launched a fierce campaign against the Saudi investment plan, suggesting it was an attempt by Riyadh to occupy Iraqi land.
Maliki and Khazali were also personally involved in the campaign to stop Saudi investment in Iraq’s agricultural sector, claiming it was a plot to destroy Iraq’s underground water reserves.
Al-Fateh parliamentary bloc, which includes representatives of Iranian-backed militias, demanded that Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi be questioned about the Saudi investment and accused him of supporting the Arab-Israeli normalisation plans by opening up Iraq’s economy.
The issue took a serious turn when armed groups held a meeting in Baghdad and agreed that “any form of Saudi investment will be a target.”
The armed groups that met in Baghdad included The Special Groups, a coalition of small combat groups linked to Iran-backed militias. Their mission has so far consisted of attacking embassies, airports and camps with Katyusha rockets.
It was also attended by the “Quarter of God,” groupings of young civilians whose mission is to besiege headquarters of diplomatic, political and media institutions that criticise Iran, and the Abu Jaddaha Front, which is comprised of groups designed to storm the headquarters of diplomatic missions and political and media bodies deemed hostile to Iran. Such operations often entail burning and looting, such as the attack on MBC Iraq earlier this year.
The groups at the Baghdad meeting agreed that “there is no room for any Saudi investment except after compensating the families of the martyrs who were victims of Saudi booby-traps and fatwas, executing terrorists in al-Hoot prison and healing the hearts of Iraqi mothers in the south, west and north,” noting that “the blood bill does not fall out of time,” according to a statement.
The meeting considered that “the phrase (we have opened a new page) is a meagre joke, as the pages are not opened until after the mistakes are compensated, and the blood money is paid.”
Khafaji, however, responded with information about the Saudi investment plan to ridicule Iran’s campaign against it and show that Tehran’s agents have relied on unfounded claims in their campaigns.
Khafaji said that Saudi Arabia had asked Iraq if it was possible to reform millions of desert acres in three governorates through projects to raise cows.
He added that his ministry conducted a careful survey of the designated areas and presented its results to the ministry of water resources, which is responsible for determining the feasibility of land for agricultural investment.
Khafaji said the expected Saudi investment would require billions of dollars and would naturally come with guarantees, including that Iraq commit to providing water sustainably for a 50 year-period in the designated areas.
He stressed that the ministry of water resources responded that the available groundwater in these areas does not cover such needs for the designated period, prompting Saudi Arabia to abandon the plan.
The minister noted that an alternative would be to grant limited areas of land to small investors, who could benefit from the quantities of groundwater available in the areas.
But observers say that the contention over the issue reflects Iran’s efforts to target all Saudi investment and interests in Iraq, including projects that have not received final approval.
Salah al-Hamdani, a prominent Iraqi blogger, said that any foreign investment in Iraq must receive Iran’s approval to be successful.
Iraq suffers from a significant decline in most service sectors, coupled with an economic crisis related to the country’s dependence on oil.
The country is also struggling with a financial crisis that has caused a severe liquidity shortfall.
Iraqis blame the economic devastation on policies pursued by Iran-backed Shia parties since 2003, as local industry was hurt and the state was overburdened by legions of government employees with no real functions, as well as the spread of administrative and financial corruption in official institutions that paralysed the government.
Source » thearabweekly