I wished that the rumors about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visiting Iraq were true, and that he does visit it. A mere rumor that prompted forces affiliated with Iran to come together to oppose it, shows its significance and reflects Tehran’s fears of the independence of the Iraqi decision.
It would have been the first visit by a Saudi leader in a long time, since 1990 when the Arab Summit was held there before the invasion of Kuwait. We hope to see top Saudi officials and other leaders from the region revive the spirit of regional political life in the heart of this historical city, Baghdad.
Iraq’s dependence on Iran’s influence threatens the Iraqis first and then the region’s countries. The wilayat al-faqih regime views Iraq as a passage, an annexation and a resource to fund it wars with men and moneyAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Abadi's vision for Iraq
People must see Baghdad as the capital of Iraq and not the capital of Tehran. Also, that Haidar al-Abadi, and not Qassem Soleimani who militia leaders compete to please, is the prime minister and the executive head of the Iraqi state. The Saudi leadership’s visit is a requirement to this relationship and a response to the call of Abadi who communicates with Riyadh in a positive way.
Abadi is trying hard to remove Iraq from its box of disputes which he inherited from Saddam Hussein’s era, the American invasion and years of ruling by former PM Nuri al-Maliki who lived through a difficult period of balance and succeeded in holding a small Arab summit in 2012 that failed in politically supporting Iraq.
Abadi wants to neutralize Iraq from regional and international fighting on its grounds and over its capabilities and authorities. He wants to purge the country from Sunni and Shiite extremists and remove it from conflicts which will mean Iraqi stability – stability that hasn’t yet been comprehensively achieved since Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.
The transitioning of Iraq into a prosperous and stable country that resembles its Gulf neighbors requires a strong and coherent leadership in Baghdad that focuses on saving the decision-making process in the country from foreign interferences, sectarian fragmentation, factionalism and individual leaders who do not respect Baghdad’s decisions.
An independent Baghdad
Maliki had a strong character. During his reign, he fought different factions and rejected political and geographic divisions in the South, West and North. He fought military wars against rebellion attempts on the state but he fell into the mistake of pursuing his own agenda, which is to rule permanently at any political price; this required pricey foreign and domestic alliances.
Saudi Arabia can support the central authority in Baghdad to be more independent. It can provide it with geopolitical balance especially that Riyadh does not have hostile motives as it does not have disputes with its neighbor, Iraq, over borders or natural resources. Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement began when Abadi became PM and improved a lot later when Riyadh amended the concept of its relations from mere diplomatic ties to joint efforts.
It’s clear that the Iranian regime is behind the state of alert against the idea of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Iraq and that it is the one that pushed its armed groups to warn the Iraqi government of any rapprochement. This is clear evidence that Tehran fears Iraq’s independence.
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In Baghdad, the government and state officials, whether in the legislative and executive authorities, are concerned about protecting their country from interferences by Iran and even by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other regional powers. Restoring Iraq as an independent state whose decisions serve its own interests actually serves the interest of the entire region.
However, Iraq’s dependence on Iran’s influence threatens the Iraqis first and then the region’s countries. The wilayat al-faqih regime views Iraq as a passage, an annexation and a resource to fund it wars with men and money. Thousands of young Iraqis and others are fighting in Syria under the banner of Qassem Soleimani, the general who is tasked with dominating neighboring areas west of Iran including Iraq and Syria. This domination has created chaos in the region and before that it had created chaos in Iraq.
Supporting factions is Tehran’s tactic to prevent the establishment of an Iraqi state whose presidential, parliamentary, executive, military and security institutions are free. This is the model which Iran is fighting to impose in Yemen by cancelling the central government in Sanaa and creating militias parallel to the army. Just like it did in Lebanon and in the occupied Palestinian territories and which it seeks to solidify in Syria.
Does Saudi Arabia have an interest in a stable Iraq whose decisions are independent? Of course. This is in the interest of all of the region’s countries and primarily of the Iraqi people.
This article is also available in Arabic.
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. He tweets @aalrashed.