On Saturday, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani requested an extension of measures introduced enabling citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to enter Iraq in an easier manner during the Arabian Gulf Cup.
GCC states include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Qatar.
Ahead of the Gulf Cup which began on January 6, Iraq waived visa fees as well as tariffs on cars for Gulf fans until the end of the Gulf Cup. It is expected that thousands of football fans from GCC countries have travelled to Iraq this month as a result of the waived visa fees and tariffs.
The Iraqi Border Crossing Commission announced on Saturday that the total number of Gulf citizens that have entered Iraq since December 28 was 55,402. While this number includes fans, it also includes teams, official delegations and foreign journalists.
This is the first time Iraq has hosted an international football team since it hosted and won the Arabian Gulf Cup, a football tournament among Gulf Arab countries back in 1979. After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Iraq was prohibited from participating in the tournament from 1990-2004 making this year’s tournament a significant return for the country. Iraqis hosting the event are hoping to reshape Iraq’s image as an unsafe and unstable place to a country capable of hosting large-scale events.
Al Sudani’s decision to request an extension of measures that will make it easier for GCC countries to enter Iraq also marks a sign of Iraq’s improved relations with other Gulf states that were previously distant. A major factor that has affected Iraq’s relationship with GCC states is that in February 2022 Iraq made its final reparations payment to Kuwait for its invasion of 1990. Iraq paid over $52.4 billion over 30 years and the ending of the reparations scheme has likely had positive effects on Iraq-Gulf relations, considering that Iraq is expected to save between 3-5 per cent of its oil revenue.
The Gulf Cup is also likely to help boost Gulf tourism to Basra and Iraq’s surrounding cities. During the tournament, Gulf media outlets have been providing Iraq with large amounts of coverage and support, particularly following Iraq’s impressive opening ceremony which was attended by football officials and FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Image Credit: Iraqi Prime Minister’s Office