Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has promised to build Iraq the biggest football stadium in the world.
The pledge comes after a friendly match between the two countries last week and is a sign of the ongoing improvement in relations between the two nations, who’ve been at loggerheads for decades.
King Salman made the promise of a 135,000 capacity stadium in Baghdad during a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi on Monday.
Saudi Arabia lost 4-1 to Iraq in the first friendly match between the two countries in nearly four decades.
Haider al-Abadi said to Arab News:
I have received a phone call from the King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
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 – at 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.
Saudi Arabia is wooing Iraq as part of an effort to restrict the growing regional influence of Iran and the economic benefits it offers.
The new stadium will eclipse the current largest stadium in the country, Basra Sport City, which hold 65,000 people.
Iraq have not hosted competitive international football matches for most of the last 30 years, ever since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait triggered an embargo.
It was lifted briefly in 2012, but a power outage during a match against Jordan, in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, led Fifa to reinstate it.
Fifa will decide whether to lift the ban later.
Despite being massive underdogs, Iraq won the clash on 28 February, thanks to two goals from Muhanad Ali, one from Emad Mohsin Majeed and a Saeed Awadh Al Yami own goal.
Yet it’s Saudi Arabia who’ve qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Russia – while Iraq missed out.
It’s great to see the two nations making positive moves for their relations.