Abadi’s visit to Riyadh, Is it a new outset of relationships ?

Abadi’s visit to Riyadh, Is it a new outset of relationships ?

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Muammar Faisal Kholi *

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi paid a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 19 of the current June.  During which, he met King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, and it is the first visit of Abadi to Saudi Arabia as prime minister, and this visit coincided with the crisis in the Gulf as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries have cut diplomatic and economic ties with the State of Qatar on 5th of the current June, and Kuwait mediated to resolve the crisis. Officials said Abadi had been due to visit Riyadh last week, but postponed his trip to avoid appearing to take sides in a diplomatic dispute that erupted between Qatar and several other Arab states including Saudi Arabia.

The timing of the visit, which had already postponed comes  in the context of the expected end of the presence of the  organization Daesh on Iraqi territory , what  reflects the ability of  Abadi to take out  his government from the circle of axes  and polarization in the sense that suggests his  personal independence  at least away  from his predecessor , al-Malki, who is still  his partisan  leader   .  Abadi aims to visit Saudi Arabia to promote reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and also to help heal the deep and bitter divisions between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq and explore the possibilities to foster advanced bilateral relations between Riyadh and Baghdad regardless of the nature of the Saudi-Iranian relations, noting that the success of Abadi could be an introduction to neutralize Iraq and make it a place of intersection of regional relations rather than conflict.  Iraqi prime minister seeks during his current visit to provide an image of Iraqi politician who is trying to bring Iraq back to its Arab environment through the gate of Saudi Arabia.

At the level of Riyadh’s ties with Baghdad before the advent of Haider al-Abadi to rule Iraq, it was difficult to build a network of open relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf because of the sectarian escalation and blurry image.  Where the Saudi-Iraqi relations have  been tense  from time to time  , where oscillate between   the aggravation and  tension since the occupation of Kuwait, and  through the fall of President Saddam Hussein, and ended to the Maliki’s government  then al-Abadi, where   Saudi Arabia  appointed during his term  an  ambassador to Baghdad in conjunction with the control of the organization of the “State” on vast areas in Iraq and threatening countries in the region, before it  pulled  him  again. It is worth noting that since Iraq’s  invasion of  Kuwait in 1990  , the Saudi-Iraqi relationship has been strained  , where Riyadh subsequently  closed  its embassy in Baghdad , and  cut  its diplomatic relations with it, and did not resume until recently. Despite the radical change that has occurred in Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia has not changed its open policies to Iraq, but the tense ties between the two countries have been increased, especially during the reign of former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which was full of sectarian conflict in Iraq, and Saudi Arabia is now in the position of accusing his government that it supports terrorism and fueling sectarianism. Despite the great tension between the two sides, Saudi Arabia was forced to appoint Thamer Sabhan as  a resident  ambassador  to  Baghdad, after Iraqi  repeated  claims since 2003, the need for the presence of  a resident  Ambassador of the Kingdom, which is described by political observers as a positive step that will strengthen bilateral relations, as part of the unification of efforts to fight the organization of the “state”, which seeks to target countries in the region through repeated attacks.

Opening the Saudi embassy in Baghdad has had a prominent role in the development of bilateral relations between the two parties, on the grounds that what unites the two sides is their battle with “terrorism”, specifically militant organizations, led by the organization “Daesh”, in addition to the Saudi detainees file in Iraq which is an important priority for Riyadh to limit the flow of Saudi youth to hot squares to join the ranks of armed groups.  But the real turning point has already begun with the recent visit of Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, to Baghdad; in a new attempt to improve bilateral relations, and within the framework of healing the rift between the two essential parties in the region, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, which its government was classified to fall within the   “Iranian” trusteeship  .

Now it seems that Haider al-Abadi has a flexible vision in building balanced relations with Saudi Arabia to serve the mutual interests, Saudi Arabia is in accordance with the vision of Iraqi government leadership needs to prove its good intention with Iraq and is not biased to an Iraqi political team against another, especially to build a political climate that is not sectarian has become an internally urgent requirement post-Daesh.  The improvement of relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf may help to find solutions on the status of the internal political congestion in Iraq to curb the sectarian and ethnic differences and the polarization that has intensified in the period of radical war, and that Saudi Arabia supports the development of the mechanisms of political process to achieve a fair representation of all.

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic positive presence  will contribute from one side to create a balance  leading to a softening of  frightening plan of US  President Donald Trump  for some parties which is calling for the exclusion of Iran from the Iraqi influence, His administration is moving to stop Iran’s efforts to expand its influence in the region, which means they are already determined to stop  Iran’s growing interventions  in the Arab countries and on the forefront are   Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon. US wants the region to be stable and calm, after realizing that Iran is the basic engine and threat  for its security and safety. On the other hand to find a new Iraqi political environment for a genuine reconciliation  that does not necessarily mean the re-consideration of some traditional Sunni leaders, but the adoption of a new political project of non-sectarian forces and personalities who are clean of terrorism, extremism and corruption before the elections in 2018. It is true that it does not relieve Iran and extremist forces inside Iraq who are seeking to further escalation of sectarian strife.

A visit of Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister to Iraq on 25th of  the last February   is  a shift in the Saudi-Iraqi relations, which is the first of its kind since more than a quarter of a century on the closure of the Saudi embassy after Baghdad’s troops invaded Kuwait in 1990, and after that point, this sudden  visit  bore many connotations and multi-dimensions , and that it represented an opportunity to return Iraq to the Arab environment, and re-relations again with the neighborhood, in addition to building a strong alliance to confront Daesh. Whatever the matter, a visit of Jubeir also carried with it a lot of dimensions and goals consistent with the rapid political changes in the region, especially after the arrival of US President Donald Trump to power, and his efforts to change his country’s policy in the Middle East, His administration differ largely from the policy of the former US government led by Barack Obama.

That visit had paved the way for the desire of Haider al-Abadi in upgrading the Saudi-Iraqi relations to advanced levels  based on his vision  and calculations  that Iraq   biased entirely to Iran and isolated from the Arabs specifically  the Saudi Arabia will not come out of its  intertwined crises , but his desire to collide with the influential  forces that do not want this openness to be achieved, It may raise a lot of political and media storm around him, especially since the hostile voices  against the Saudi Arabia are high  and we  do not know the extent of  his ability to resist , if only  he touched  that Tehran would  not stand against such a move, especially in the political battle with the US administration for accurate accounts  and its quest to open a gap in the wall. According to Iraqi fair criteria and keen   on the security of the country and ambition to build it after the devastation that hit it, Abadi’s   mutual step with Saudi Arabia’s earnest desire to develop relations between Baghdad and Riyadh would be in the interests of the Iraqi people first and foremost.

Iraq will try to find a difficult balance point between its relations with Saudi Arabia and its relations with Iran, and al-Abadi’s decision to change the agenda of his tour, and go directly to Iran expresses the sensitivity of the Iraqi situation between Riyadh and Baghdad. Abadi will not take any position that keeps him away from Tehran and that he will try through the new Gulf approach to get an Iranian “understanding” to expand the margin of maneuver of Iraq. It also seeks in this particular time to change the positioning of his country and to pursue other options to keep up with the Iranian option and prepare the country for consistency with regional changes. Despite the rooted hostility of sectarian warlords in Iraq against Saudi Arabia, the statement condemning the visit of Abadi has not been issued from any party, it confirms that Iran has worked to control its agents waiting for what could result in the visit of Abadi, which already postponed because of internal disagreements over its program. Observers believe that the Iranians are happy to the visit of Abadi, because he did not engage in the axes of Riyadh, but they know that he will not be engaged in Tehran axis also, because of the high ceiling of his commitment with the United States.

And  Because the political relations between the countries are quite closely linked to the economic relations between them , noting that the  visit  of   Haider al-Abadi to Saudi Arabia has resulted  in an agreement on the establishment of a coordinating council between Saudi Arabia and Iraq aims to elevate relations to a strategic level, hopefully to open up new horizons of cooperation in various fields including political and security and economic development, trade, investment, tourism, culture , and activate the partnership between the private sector in the two countries, and follow up the implementation of the concluded agreements and memoranda of understanding to achieve common goals. This Council may help, particularly in the economic apartment to ease Iraq’s economic crisis especially at the level of reconstruction and the return of displaced persons to their homes safely noting that the Saudi Arabia is able to play a significant role in the immediate development plan. The theoretical talk by the US administration to rebuild Iraq lacks the facts, and so-called loans of the International Monetary Fund is going to encircle the neck of Iraq in the last three years under the emptiness of the Iraqi treasury and the dominance of corruption and looting in the corridors of government. As Iran does not want this country to rebuild itself independently.

Iraq’s deteriorating economic situation and the lack of industrial and agricultural development and closed factories and agricultural enterprises to serve the flow of Iranian bad consumer goods in the Iraqi market as well as Turkish goods. The   project of Arab Marshall is best suited to the Iraqis, and Saudi Arabia has been able to play a leading role in it. Abadi aware For his part, that the post Daesh requires a lot of real efforts to build what was destroyed by conflicts and disputes that prevailed in Iraq since the US invasion, which his government is not strong enough to meet it in the light of the continuation of work of machine of corruption, which will push him to seek assistance of Saudi investment starting from of economic relations to fill political gaps. And the Saudi leadership may not mind to meet the demands of the Abadi, in order to inject something of the force in his quest for Arab openness in the face of extremism posed by pro-Iranian militias and are preparing to jump to the rule.

Haidar Abadi is aware of the nature of the new international trends toward Iran, and closely monitors the military field developments in Syria, which are working to undermine Tehran’s influence there, and owns US data source as long as it encouraged him to communicate with Riyadh and develop the relationship with the Gulf States. And what al-Abadi heard in Riyadh, it would be in the position of listening by the Iranian leadership that it became clear to it that the Arab and world   are shedding lights    to its destructive role in the region .And the move of Abadi from Jeddah to Tehran directly to create a new atmosphere in Iraq to ease differences that hit the ruling National Alliance   in Iraq in preparation for the elections. Through the confidence of both parties  to him  that the Prime Minister may be able to form  a strong party in the face of the hawks of the Dawa Party protected by  militias .

The realistic view of the political environment of Iraq does not outweigh the possibility of the success of any attempt to keep Iraq  away from Iran, because the government described as “Shiite”, involving major Shiite forces enjoyed a very special relationship with Tehran, and the forces of the armed popular crowd with broad popular  because it contributed mainly in defeating Daesh, and obtained  a lot of financial and military support from Tehran in its battles, will not allow any attempt to move away from Tehran axis. Where Iran has openly  revealed the amount of its bet on the Shiite militias, which make up the Shiite crowd to control the political and security situation in Iraq  and seized it , warning that Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of prejudice to that  paramilitary body which was turned into something like sectarian reserve army to the government forces , taking advantage of the Iranian generous support with money and military expertise and weapons, and also from the war it waged against al Daesh and  emerged  by virtue of it as an active player in the military equation and even political ones. And  a crowd  became with  their  influential leaders  with close ties to Iran, a tool  of pressure on the aspirant  prime minister  to make political  internal reforms , and adjust the country’s foreign policy towards achieving the degree of openness to Arab countries . And in the light of the presence of the crowd and ambition of its leaders   to involve it in politics and use it as a voting paper in the upcoming parliamentary elections, it will be impossible for the Abadi to pass any reforms limiting the influence of the pro-Iranian in Iraq.  Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei (Murshed) warned Haider al-Abadi during the recent visit to the Iranian capital of Tehran, from taking any action that could lead to a weakening of the armed Shiite factions backed by Iran, saying that such behavior will expose Baghdad’s stability to the risk. Iran employs Shiite militias to achieve a strategic targets beyond Iraq to the region as a whole, including securing the road between Tehran and Syria and Lebanon through Iraq down to the shores of the Mediterranean, which explains the Iranian deep interest in the protection of popular crowd and defend it.

Perhaps the situation agreed upon by everyone that Iraq is an arena for the balance of power, For years there was an Iranian American coexistence in Iraq since 2003, and there will not be an obstacle to the continuation of it, and to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, a Sunni states, on the basis of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs will give Iraq the honest broker role to resolve the problems of those countries with Iran.

Rawabet Center  for Research and Strategic Studies