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Feb 16, 2018 | 22:10 GMT

3 mins read

Iraq, Saudi Arabia: Riyadh Backs the Media Battleground

(Stratfor 2018)
Forecast Update

Stratfor's 2018 Annual Forecast said that Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states would use their economic power to support Iraqi entities that could act as a balance against Iranian influence. With recent reports stating that Saudi Arabia is offering money to a media station in Iraq, the forecast that countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council would funnel money and aid to parties in Iraq in an effort to undermine Iranian influence is close to being confirmed.

In its quest to counter Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia is hoping to use its financial clout to turn the tide on a different sort of battlefield. According to Iraqi media sources, behind the scenes talks in the Kurdistan region of Iraq have led Saudi Arabia to offer $10 million to support the Shiite TV station Al Forat. Further reports indicate that media personnel from the station were sent to Saudi media offices in the United Arab Emirates for training. Though the reports haven't been confirmed by Saudi or Emirati sources, Al Forat recently announced that it has upgraded its channel to air in high definition and that its app will soon support IOS and Android devices. It may not be a complete confirmation, but the new upgrades suggest the channel has indeed acquired more funding.

If the reports are true, it would be a clear effort from powerful Sunni Arab Gulf states to support Iraqi media that could counter Iranian influence in Iraq. More than that, it would mark an effort by Saudi Arabia to increase its influence with Iraqis, regardless of sectarian affiliation. A well-known media station in Iraq, Al Forat is owned by Shiite cleric and political leader Ammar al-Hakim. However, Hakim's political party, the National Wisdom party, has denied reports of Saudi funding for the TV station.

Hakim is a logical personality for Saudi Arabia to connect with in Iraq. A member of a prominent family of Shiite clerics, Hakim maintains significant popularity. In addition, he split from the Iran-linked Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq last fall to form his own political movement with greater independence from Iran. Although he is Shiite, Hakim still ticks a lot of boxes for the Sunni Arab Gulf states. It's not guaranteed that he and his network have received their backing, but Hakim and Al Forat are exactly the sort of influential voices that it would make sense for Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies to support.

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