Will a Saudi embassy in Baghdad end tensions with Iraq?
A cause for concern for Saudi Arabia is the Iranian infiltration of Iraq
Foreign missions in the Iraqi capital are still under threat yet the Saudi Foreign Affairs Ministry decided to send a technical team to choose a new location for its embassy which closed its doors 24 years ago. The visit aims to break the ice in a relationship that has been frosty for the past 10 years. Saudi Arabia has also decided to open a general consulate in the Kurdistan region, implementing a previous decision which did not see the light due to political and security tensions.
A cause for concern for Saudi Arabia is the Iranian infiltration of IraqAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Relations were never severed completely but there has been no Saudi embassy and no Saudi ambassador in Baghdad in recent years. An embassy has a message and the diplomatic team has a mission to carry out, which includes fixing what has been damaged during the many decades under various Iraqi governments. Relations were bad in the 1970s, especially with the rise of Saddam Hussein to the post of vice president as he gave directions to incite against Saudi Arabia, supported opposition groups and funded secret operations inside the Saudi kingdom. This did not end until after a meeting organized by Jordan. The meeting resulted in a number of agreements which included specifying a neutral zone and ending hostile activities.
Exploiting the fall
It wasn’t long until President Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, exploiting the fall of the Shah who was his militarily nemesis. Saddam launched the attack to reclaim what he called the occupied Iraqi lands. Recklessly, he led the Gulf countries - who feared for their security should the Iraqi defenses collapse – to enter the fray in support of Iraq, especially as Khomeini’s regime threatened them with invasion. After the war with Iran ended, relations with Iraq soured when Saddam invaded Kuwait and it should be noted that the war to liberate Kuwait triggered a number of crises and continuous wars that have lasted until this very day. Actually, Iraq and the Gulf have lived through 34 years of tension since the 1980s and the region has not stabilized yet.
I have previously written articles on Saudi-Iraqi relations, and the relationship between the two is certainly capable of either leading the region towards security or dragging it toward further turbulence. It all depends on the politicians’ ability to manage complicated crises between the two countries. There are some issues which both agree on but there are other issues which the two parties may butt heads over. The war on terrorism, such as on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, is not controversial as both extremist groups clearly target both countries. Riyadh believes it is the Iraqi government’s duty not to blur the line between terrorist groups and Sunnis who are angry at being marginalized and are disillusioned with the deteriorating livelihood and humanitarian situation in around five provinces. Riyadh also thinks that the previous government’s restraining practices sparked the current crisis and strengthened ISIS’s capabilities in particular, leading it to take over Mosul. It was the day after terrorists took over Mosul that Saudi Arabia issued a statement against ISIS and militarily fortified its northern borders, realizing that these terrorist organizations don’t only threaten Iraq but also threaten Saudi territory.
Cause for concern
A cause for concern for Saudi Arabia is the Iranian infiltration of Iraq and Iran’s attempt to subjugate Iraq to its military and intelligence influence under the excuse of fighting terrorism. Riyadh cannot do anything about this. However, the Iraqi leadership must confront the responsibility of realizing its situation, maintaining the independence of the state and rejecting Iranian interferences which will be difficult for the Iraqis to curb in the future. Iraq is not a small or poor country and should not need a foreign power to protect its capabilities and guarantee its internal security.
Ensuring positive relations with all its neighbors, including the Saudis, will serve the interests of Baghdad whose government still has a long way to go in terms of achieving internal reconciliation. The government also has a way to go in achieving positive relations with all of the Kurdistan region’s powers and in getting rid of the legacy of the harmful governments of Saddam Hussein and Nouri al-Maliki.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on January 5, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.