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Two delegations from the two main Middle East rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia met in Baghdad earlier this month, far from the spotlight, officials confirmed to AFP on Monday, which are important discussions with a reshuffling of the cards in the region.
Iraq, which finds itself in a complex situation between its eastern Shiite neighbor and its Sunni neighbor to the south, has sought to play the role of mediator in the Middle East since the Islamic State extremist group was defeated at the end of 2017. Iraqi officials realize that the road is long, but if Iraq is not able to To apply great pressure, it at least provided an arena for dialogue.
In early April, Baghdad hosted a meeting that brought together a Saudi delegation headed by Khaled bin Ali Al-Humaidan, head of the intelligence service, and an Iranian delegation headed by delegates by the Secretary-General of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Ali Shamkhani, an Iraqi government official confirmed to AFP.
For his part, a Western diplomat said that he was “informed in advance of these discussions,” which were presented to him as “aimed at easing tensions and creating better relations” between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
– Change leaders –
There is no doubt that any lull in the current tension between Tehran and Riyadh, which severed their relations in 2016, accusing each other of destabilizing the region, will benefit Iraq, which suffers from damage caused by attacks by missiles or explosive devices that are carried out on a weekly basis by the factions that are considered a card by Iran to use in all negotiations With Baghdad, according to Iraqi officials.
Until recently, however, such an affinity was remote.
In January 2020, following the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by a US air strike in Baghdad, tension rose between Tehran and Washington, the great godfather of Riyadh, which threatened then to turn Iraq into an arena for conflict.
But the government of Iraq has changed since then.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who has brought factions loyal to Iran deep into the Iraqi state system, resigned.
He was succeeded by Mustafa Al-Kazemi, who maintained a good relationship with Iran, although he was considered by many to be Washington’s man, and he was also a personal friend of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
On the other hand, Donald Trump left the White House to take over Joe Biden, who is seeking to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Under these circumstances, Adel Bekawan, an analyst at the Institute for Mediterranean and Middle East Studies and Research, told AFP that “Riyadh sees itself objectively obligated to engage in a discussion with Iran.”
The expert notes in particular that in Yemen, where the Saudi-led military coalition since 2015 has failed to break the Houthi rebels’ thorn, Tehran can “participate, positively or negatively,” in finding a way out of the conflict.
While the Houthis are seen as representing the southern axis of the pro-Iranian factions, the Houthi rebellion was a major focus of the discussions that took place at the end of March in Riyadh between Al-Kazemi and Mohammed bin Salman.
Al-Kazemi did not cease to assert that Iraq could not turn into a platform for launching aggressive attacks against its neighbors.
In exchange for this position, Al-Kazemi included Saudi Arabia’s pledge to invest up to three billion dollars in Iraq, which has been suffering for decades from weak electricity and water infrastructure, as well as medical services and schools.
But at the same time, the Saudi crown prince realizes that without rapprochement with Tehran, any investment in Iraq will be faced with hostile campaigns.
Adel Bakwan believes that before achieving coexistence in Iraq and other regions in the region between Saudi Arabia and Iran, many files must be settled. For Saudi Arabia, it is “the Iranian nuclear file … and armed factions in the Middle East, especially in Syria and Lebanon,” and for the Iranians, “the fate of the Shiites in the oil-rich Saudi province … and Riyadh’s financing of extremist violence in countries in which Iran has a presence.”
Perhaps the sensitivity of all these files explains the reason behind the official silence about the Baghdad meeting that took place behind the scenes.
In Riyadh, the official press quickly denied the information initially published by the British Financial Times newspaper.
On the other hand, a source close to the pro-Iranian circles in Iraq told AFP that “the Iranians chose not to comment out of respect for the Saudi position.”
But behind the scenes it is being said that the Iranians and the Saudis are still here.
In this regard, Adel Bekawan said, “At this exact moment, small working groups from the two delegations are negotiating about the technical details of all files under the auspices of Mustafa Al-Kazemi.”
© 2021 AFP