Cash-Flush Saudi Arabia Gifts Iraq World’s Biggest Soccer Stadium

In mid-January, the Saudi government netted more than $100 billion in cash, stock, real estate and other assets stemming from the 2017 Saudi Arabian purge. We reported the total amount raised could have been enough to cover the country’s 2017 budget deficit, and then some.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman went on a spending spree — purchasing $10 billion worth of Eurofighter Typhoon jets from the United Kingdom. Moreover, King Salman promised to construct the world’s largest football stadium in Baghdad.

It is still unclear if the king or prince tapped into the $100 billion of purged assets or used their American Express Centurion card, also dubbed “The Black Card,” to buy Eurofighter jets and or the world’s largest stadium, as cardholders have no preset spending limit.

There are many unanswered questions regarding how these deals transacted…

Besides the acquisition of the Eurofighter jets – most likely headed to participate in the Yemeni Civil War, King Salman gifted Baghdad a monstrous 135,000-seat stadium after a friendly soccer match resulted in Iraq defeating Saudi Arabia 4-1, in late February.

It seems like King Salman lost a costly bet.

According to Arab News, the official headline was announced on March 05 that King Salman would fund the construction of the new football stadium following a telephone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi on March 04.

On March 05, the Iraqi Prime Minister used his weekly press conference to expand on details of the collaboration and how it arrived on the back of the first football match on Iraqi soil between the two sides in almost 40 years, said Arab News.

Arab News summarizes the constructive call between Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi and Saudi Arabia King Salman Bin Abdulaziz:

“I have received a phone call from the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdul Aziz,” he said. “He hailed Iraqi’s victory (in the friendly match between the two sides last week) and expressed his preparedness and commitment to expanding positive relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia at different levels — economical, commercial, communal, cultural, etc.— a t all levels that are of interest for the two countries.

“He also offered Saudi Arabia’s contribution to build a main stadium in Iraq that accommodates 100,000 people. We have welcomed the initiative and it was proposed today to the Cabinet.”

Al-Abadi said he has instructed his Cabinet to set up a task force to drive the build of the biggest stadium in Iraq, eclipsing the 65,000 venue at Basra Sports City.

“The Cabinet gave its directives to form a committee consisting of a group of key ministries concerned with this project,” Al-Abadi said. “The committee will consist of the Cabinet’s secretariat, the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the Ministry of Higher Education, which includes the Center of Urban and Regional Planning

“It will handle developing the general framework for establishing the stadium, which will be the main stadium. 100,000 people is not a small number. We must pick a suitable location in Baghdad along with the stadium’s own additional facilities.

“The stadium will be established under the supervision and guidance of a higher Iraqi-Saudi coordinating council, which will specify the location and design in addition to following up on the project’s progress. The outcomes and progress of the committee’s work will be presented to the Cabinet.”

Here is the official press release from the Iraqi Prime Minister Dr. Haider Al-Abadi’s office about the new stadium:

Highlights of the game: Iraq vs. Saudi Arabia 2018 football match at Basra, Iraq, on February 28.

Here are how some on social media responded to the new Saudi-Funded Iraqi stadium:

“Iraqi PM @HaiderAlAbadi ‘s announcement that Saudi King wants to build a football stadium in Baghdad is not itself the news. The news is the extent to which the PM has improved relations with #KSA, an indispensable step to stabilizing #Iraq,” said one Twitter user.

“King Salman of Saudi Arabia was so happy with how the friendly match went vs. Iraq few days ago, he has given the country a stadium as a gift. Great gesture,” said a sports journalist.

“This photo from Basra would’ve been literally unthinkable 4 yrs ago! (context: #Iraq-Saudi football game being played in Basra stadium today),” said a Senior Research Fellow, Middle East Institute.

Saudi Arabia’s gesture has split feelings amongst Iraqis; many believe King Salman wooing top Iraqi officials with a massive shiny stadium is an effort to restrict the growing regional influence of Iran and force Baghdad closer to Riyadh. Nevertheless, the House of Saud’s foreign policy has pivoted — now focused on interfering politically, rather than militarily, i.e. its failed civil war in Yemen.