US welcomes Iraq role in Middle East ahead of Baghdad summit aiming to ease tensions

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The summit being hosted by Iraq this weekend will be closely watched by the international community as Baghdad looks to re-establish its role as a balancing force between sparring sides in the region.

With the major powers in the Middle East being invited to the conference, it remains unclear what level of representation Saudi Arabia and Iran will send, although reports suggest Tehran’s newly appointed foreign minister will attend.

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So far, the confirmed leaders of the region include Egypt’s President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

French President Emmanuel Macron will also attend.

Turkey has been invited, but no announcement has been made as to who will represent the country which has fallen out of favor with much of the Arab world in recent years due to its support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Friday, senior US officials voiced support for the summit during separate TV interviews and a call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.

“National Security Advisor Sullivan noted President Biden’s full support for the upcoming regional conference in Baghdad with an aim to elevate diplomacy and dialogue across the Middle East region,” the White House said.

The pair discussed the “important role” of Iraq in the region and its diplomatic efforts to bring countries together and de-escalate tensions “wherever possible,” the White House said.

The top US diplomat for the Middle East welcomed the conference. “It’s a chance for Iraq to be a leader again in the region and become a place where countries … can bridge their divides rather than make Iraq a battleground,” Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood told Iraq’s Ekhbariya TV.

Washington will be watching the summit carefully as it prepares to adjust its presence in Iraq. Following the embarrassing results of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in recent days, the US will most certainly be thinking about how and when it withdraws from the next country it is present in.

Earlier this year, the US said it was readjusting its presence in Iraq after coming under significant pressure from Iran-backed Iraqi lawmakers to withdraw entirely. It is worth noting that the US is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help fight ISIS.

During Friday’s call, the White House said Sullivan and Hussein emphasized the firm commitment of both countries to continue coordinating in the fight against ISIS’s financing, propaganda, and movement of foreign fighters.

The foreign fighters are an apparent reference to Iranian proxies present in several Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.

Sources familiar with the summit expect the wars in Yemen and Syria to be discussed as well as crisis-struck Lebanon.

Despite reports that Syria was extended an invite, no representatives from the Assad regime are expected to attend.

Lebanon was not invited to the summit, according to a source close to the Lebanese presidency.

Nevertheless, the weekend summit is expected to be a step toward de-escalation in a region engulfed in flames of wars and crises.

“The gathering builds on a momentum that has been gathering in the region toward de-escalation of tensions and a pause in the competition for power and influence some regional capitals have been waging. Diplomacy and dialogue are en vogue again,” Randa Slim, a director at Washington-based Middle East Institute, told Al Arabiya English.