Saudi pushes Iraq ties in anti-Assad move
BAGHDAD SAUDI Arabia’s push to improve ties with Iraq is part of a drive to convince it to abandon the Syrian president, despite the strong influence in Baghdad of Riyadh’s foe Tehran, experts say.
In a marked warming, Riyadh has named a nonresident envoy to Iraq and Baghdad sent a security delegation to hold talks in Riyadh, to be followed by another group of Iraqi officials in coming days.
The rapprochement comes in the runup to an Arab League summit in Baghdad in late March.
Iraq is caught between calls from Arab states of the Gulf for Syria’s President Bashar al Assad to quit and Shiite Iran’s staunch support of the Damascus regime, dominated by minority Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
“The Saudis want Iraq to be more with the Gulf countries,” said Mahmud Othman, an independent Kurdish MP. “They want to be nice to Iraq to pull it towards its position, against Iran and Syria.” Othman characterised the Middle East as falling into two camps: Arab Sunni states and Turkey in one, and Iran and Shiite factions in the other.
“Iraq will be in a difficult situation,” he said, pointing out that the country is led by its majority Shiite Muslims but is also home to a substantial Sunni minority which ran the government until Saddam Hussein’s 2003 overthrow.
“Iraq will have lots of problems between going this way or that,” he said.
Saudi Arabia appointed its first ambassador to Iraq since Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, having viewed Iraq’s Shiite-led government with suspicion in the aftermath of the dictator’s ouster in a US-led invasion.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki himself has a history of rocky relations with Saudi Arabia, which was widely seen to have backed his rival Iyad Allawi for the premiership after 2010 parliamentary elections.
Despite that, the two countries have moved to tighten cooperation on security issues, with Iraq’s deputy interior minister, Adnan al-Assadi, on Wednesday hailing early signs of an improvement.
He said he was “very optimistic that this cooperation will be the beginning of a new phase of openness between the two countries on political, economic and security issues.”