Riyadh and Baghdad can boost Arab unity

In a much-anticipated move, Saudi Arabia plans to reopen its embassy in Baghdad

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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In a much-anticipated move, Saudi Arabia plans to reopen its embassy in Baghdad and a consulate in Arbil after 24 years, giving further impetus to recent initiatives by the Kingdom to unify the Arab world.

The new Iraqi government has begun its term in office with positive intentions, if judged by the remarks of various leading officials not least the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Relations warmed considerably between the two nations after Iraqi President Fouad al-Masoum visited Saudi Arabia on Nov. 11 last year and met with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.

The deadly brew of violent sectarianism, politics, and using religion for personal gain, is bound to leave permanent scars

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

It is not true that the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was instrumental in breaking the ice between the two countries. Saudi Arabia has been seeking stronger relations with Iraq for a while but had been stymied by the isolationist and sectarian policies of Nouri al-Maliki, the former Iraqi prime minister.

Maliki’s behavior

Maliki’s behavior had worsened an already deteriorating situation in the country, leaving its main cities vulnerable to attack by ISIS gangs. The failure of the army to defend large parts of Iraq’s territory was caused by Maliki marginalizing them. These failures ultimately exposed the weakness in his regime and forced him to quit.

Historically and strategically, Iraq’s natural links are with the Arab world. Not only is it unnatural for decisions about Iraq to be in the hands of another country, the situation has damaged its relations with its Arab neighbors.

There is now hope that the new government would return the country to its rightful place. This is sorely needed because of the current deplorable security situation in the region.

We cannot expect Abadi’s government to perform miracles but it can, at the very least, provide a solid measure of balance and openness to the Arab world and neighboring countries. Most importantly, the government should treat all its citizens equally.

Deadly brew

The deadly brew of violent sectarianism, politics, and using religion for personal gain, is bound to leave permanent scars on the collective psyche of generations of people. This has been the main problem in the Arab world, which requires new initiatives to counter.

Saudi Arabia’s goal is to send a clear message that Riyadh supports a strong and united Arab world that includes Iraq. It’s time for Iraq to contribute to security in the region.

The two countries have shared interests and can together explore a future that would be mutually beneficial on the economic from. The leading members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) need to unify their positions for this to happen.

A first step

Reopening the embassy is a first step in that direction. It cannot just be a handshake and backslapping for the benefit of the world’s media. What the region really needs is reconciliation by resolving problems in an honest and transparent manner. Iraq now needs to introduce practical measures that will breathe life into the rhetoric of its leaders.

Developed countries know that economic development must be at the forefront of policymaking. These interests must guide political decisions. Iraqis need a moderate government that can establish stability and ensure a better standard of living for all citizens.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq share an 850-km border, with close ties between tribes, and a long history of relations. This is the ideal staging ground for the Kingdom’s initiatives because it can reaffirm these links and benefit millions of people. It has all the hallmarks of history in the making.

This article was first published in Arab News on January 7, 2015.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992. You can follow him on Twitter here: @mfalharthi

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