ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq is aiming to be a political mediator between neighboring countries to ease current tensions, according to Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi who is currently on an official visit to Saudi Arabia.
“We will go to Saudi Arabia tomorrow with a large number of businessmen,” Abdul-Mahdi said on Tuesday, noting “we are facing a major shift in our relations with Saudi Arabia.”
Diplomatic ties between the two countries broke down in 1990 following Baghdad’s brazen invasion of Kuwait. They did not fully recover even after the fall of the former Saddam Hussein-led regime. Meanwhile, Iranian presence and influence grew everpresent with its allies in positions of power in the Iraqi Shia-majority government.
In 2015, however, Saudi Arabia officially resumed formal ties with Iraq as Riyadh reopened its embassy in Baghdad after 25 years. In June 2017, the two sides agreed to set up a joint-coordination council in efforts to further cement ties.
The council facilitates economic ties, with the two sides signing multiple memorandums of understanding and preparing work for the reopening of long-barred trade routes.
In early April, the Saudi Kingdom promised a 1 billion dollar loan for the reconstruction of Iraqi areas destroyed during the war with the Islamic State. It also offered as a “gift” to build a major sports stadium in Baghdad.
The Iraqi government also has strong economic and political ties with Iran. On April 06, Abdul-Mahdi visited the eastern neighbor, the president of which called for the expansion of the bilateral yearly trade volume from 12 to 20 billion dollars.
Despite militarily defeating the Islamic State in 2017, stability in Iraq and the wider region remains fragile. The costs of reconstruction and strong demands by the people—notably by protesters in southern Iraq—to address the lack of public services, unemployment, and corruption have put pressure on Baghdad to focus on economic development.
Indeed, despite its close ties with Iran, US sanctions on the Islamic Republic have pushed Iraq to look to other neighboring countries for trade and to boost its economy. According to Abdul-Mahdi, the strengthening of economic relations with Saudi Arabia is part of a purported “strategy,” starting with “what is possible,” that would then possibly allow for a shift toward diplomatic mediation between Tehran and Riyadh.
As the PM explained, Iraq is “concentrating on economic issues,” which, if strong, he claimed, could “lead to us some political roles played by Iraq between different countries.”
“Iraq wants to play such a role” and neighbors “might wait” for Baghdad to take on this task, Abdul-Mahdi concluded.
Editing by Nadia Riva