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Saudi king to fund football stadium in Iraq

Phone call with Iraq PM latest indication of improved relations between countries

Image Credit: AFP
A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on February 28, 2018, shows King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz receiving Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri at the royal palace in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
Gulf News

Baghdad: Saudi Arabia has offered to fund a new football stadium in Iraq, as Fifa prepares to decide whether to lift its ban on Iraq hosting competitive international matches.

The offer came in a telephone call between Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi on Monday evening, the prime minister’s office said.

It provided no further details about the cost of the stadium or where it might be located.

The two leaders also discussed how to enhance and strengthen cooperation between their countries, and the Iraqi-Saudi Joint Coordination Council, a body created last October to improve strategic relations and help rebuild devastated areas retaken from Islamist militants in Iraq.

The phone call was the latest indication of improved relations between the two countries, which have been at loggerheads for decades, starting with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Saudi Arabia is wooing Baghdad as part of an effort to stem the growing regional influence of Iran, while Iraq is seking economic benefits from closer ties with Riyadh.

The call follows an international friendly between the two countries in Iraq’s third city Basra on February 28, their first on Iraqi soil in 40 years.

The king described the game, which Iraq won 4-1 in front of a capacity 60,000 crowd, as a “success”, Al Abadi’s office said.

It was watched by Asian Football Confederation head Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who said “the time has come” to end the three-decade ban on Iraq hosting competitive international matches.

Fifa is due to decide on March 16.

The country has not played full internationals on home turf since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

The ban, covering all but domestic matches, stayed in place after the US-led invasion of 2003 toppled dictator Saddam Hussain.

It was briefly lifted in 2012, but a power outage during an Iraq-Jordan match in the Iraqi Kurdish capital Arbil led Fifa to promptly reinstate it.

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