It almost feels like old times. Before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, Gulf Arabs partied on the banks of the Shatt al-Arab river in southern Iraq. Many owned villas in the fields around Basra and took Iraqi wives. Now, after a break of three decades, they are back. Saudi Arabia is putting the finishing touches on a consulate in Basra's Sheraton hotel, where Iraqi crooners sing love songs and waiters dance. Last month a dozen Saudi poets travelled to Basra for a literary festival.
Saudi interest was initially pricked by America, which has been marshalling Gulf support to help stem Iran's push west. It was a hard sell. Iraq, under Saddam, threatened to invade Saudi Arabia. More recently, it has allowed Shia militias backed by Iran to set up camp on the Saudi border. In response the kingdom, which considers itself the region's Sunni champion, is accused on bankrolling Sunni jihadists in Iraq.