As part of an overall move to strengthen their ties, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have opened the Arar border crossing 27 years after its closure, marking a significant step in bringing the two countries closer, experts tell Diyaruna.
The crossing opened on a temporary basis on August 8th, as it has done each year to allow Iraqis making the pilgrimage to Mecca to pass through.
This year, however, the crossing will remain open, with the official and permanent opening scheduled for the first week of September.
The opening of the crossing was orchestrated in Anbar during visits between officials from both countries, as part of a political rapprochement between Iraq and the kingdom through a focus on common interests.
Important commercial outlet
The opening of the land border is a significant move that reflects Iraq's foreign policy priorities, said Fahad Mishaan, who serves on the Anbar provincial council's economic committee.
"In addition to the significant economic benefits to opening the crossing, it is the only access point on land specifically used for the transport of commercial goods and services between the two countries," he told Diyaruna.
This will encourage economic exchange between Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
"Saudi products are in high demand among Iraqi consumers, which makes the crossing one of the most important entry and import hubs for Iraq," he said.
The federal government in Baghdad will reap significant revenues from tariffs and taxes issued at the crossing, Mishaan said.
Although the border crossing falls under the purview of the federal government, the law still allows the transfer of between 35 and 40% of its revenues to the local government, he noted.
This will allow for more public spending in Anbar, at a time when it desperately needs financial resources for reconstruction.
Managing security concerns
The crossing is linked to the international highway to Baghdad that runs through the heart of Anbar desert, where the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has staged several ambushes and attacks.
"If an additional unit is mobilised to secure the road leading to the crossing, it will be 100% safe," Anbar provincial council member Naeem al-Koud told Diyaruna, noting that convoys of Iraqi pilgrims have passed through without incident.
To ensure security is maintained, he said, a security plan with regular military deployment should be put in place to secure both the road and the crossing.
"We do not want to give the Anbar police the responsibility of securing the international road [leading to the crossing]," he said. "The Ministry of Interior should provide a special force to protect external roads, and we also hope to provide a border protection brigade to secure the crossing."
Baghdad has demonstrated it is serious about opening the crossing by appointing additional security forces to secure it and the highway to Baghdad, Anbar provincial council member Falih al-Issawi told Diyaruna.
"The road is safe enough to commence commercial activity and the passage of goods," he said.
Mitigating Iranian influence
Meanwhile, as Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has exploited past tensions between Iraq and Saudi Arabia to expand its influence in Iraq through forming militias, the reopening of the crossing is one way to reduce that influence, experts say.
Reopening Arar crossing is a sign that these tensions are melting away, as Iraq and Saudi Arabia have reached a political agreement and a convergence of strategies, said retired Saudi army officer and military attaché Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Shehri.
The crossing’s opening indicates the willingness and determination of both countries to restore the strategic dimension of their relationship, he told Al-Mashareq.
The overlapping geography and social structure portend excellent relations, which seem to be emerging now, he added, as does a shared commitment to fighting terrorism.
The burgeoning commercial activities also will help to mitigate the IRGC's influence, he said, as trade exchange can reinvigorate Saudi and Iraqi areas along the border and strengthen ties between the countries.
In particular, he added, improved tribal and social ties, will help to break down the atmosphere of Iranian hegemony in Iraq.
"The first signs of security co-operation are already visible in the co-ordination of security in the crossing from both sides to protect the roads leading to the site," he said.