Dynamics of Saudi Arabia–KRG Relations: From 2003 Iraq War to 2017 Referendum and Beyond

Cengiz S.

Contemporary Review of the Middle East, vol.9, no.3, pp.321-340, 2022 (ESCI) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 9 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2022
  • Doi Number: 10.1177/23477989221099342
  • Journal Name: Contemporary Review of the Middle East
  • Journal Indexes: Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), Scopus
  • Page Numbers: pp.321-340
  • Keywords: Gulf, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan Regional Government, Saudi Arabia, STATE ACTORS
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


© 2022 SAGE Publications.Numerous studies have examined the decades-old Saudi-Iranian rivalry, which has played out in various regional arenas, notably Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gulf. This article explores the place that Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq occupies within this rivalry. As the KRG’s foreign relations have attracted scholarly attention since the late 1990s, the article examines the Saudi Arabia–KRG relations in the post-2003 Iraq War, with a special focus on growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The end of Saddam Hussein’s rule and the subsequent rise of Shiite-dominated governments in Baghdad has shaken the regional balance, bringing out Iran as an influential actor in the Middle East. This laid the foundation for new understandings in the Saudi regional policy as Riyadh emphasized its relations with Iraq and the KRG, which became a crucial factor that can balance and imbalance power in the Middle East. It argues that common concerns for security and relative gains paved the way for a closer relationship between Riyadh and Erbil to counter threats emanating from both Iran and ISIS. Through case-specific information to those interested in Kurdish politics and the Middle East, it not only delves into the driving forces behind Riyadh-Erbil relations but also aims to present the Saudi interpretation of the 2017 Kurdish referendum.