Saudi minister’s visit to Baghdad mirrors regional shifts
BAGHDAD – Saudi Deputy Defence Minister Prince Khalid Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz arrived Tuesday in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on an official visit.
Prince Khalid, who was accompanied by a high-ranking Saudi delegation, said on his official Twitter account that he met Iraqi President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi and Defence Minister Juma Anad al-Juburi.
“I was delighted to visit the brotherly Republic of Iraq today (…) to convey the greetings of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz and HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” Prince Khalid said.
“We discussed the brotherly ties between our two countries and ways to improve the relationship across all avenues,” the Saudi deputy defence minister added.
The two sides also discussed “issues of mutual interests to both our countries,” according to Prince Khalid’s tweet.
“The kingdom will stand by its brotherly Iraqi state,” he added, calling the two countries’ relations an “inexhaustible partnership”, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Saudi-Iraqi ties are tangibly developing towards a more practical, win-win future, following warming relations between the two countries. The shift comes after a period marked by tensions and differences that prevented them from boosting ties and reaping the benefits of cooperation in range fields.
Recent visits by Iraqi prime, foreign and interior ministers to Riyadh indicated a shift in policies and showed a desire to develop cooperation in various areas, including politics, diplomacy and the economy.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia are also boosting cooperation in the key field of security to face the threat of instability across the region, particularly in Iraq, which is geographically connected to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq in December 2015, after a quarter century of disruption following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s.
Iran and Tehran-aligned Iraqi politicians were often responsible for weakening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq after 2003.
However, the kingdom recently began looking to play an active role in Iraq to fill the diplomatic vacuum in order to contain regional threats.
On the Iraqi side, the ruling class, including a number of pro-Iran politicians, has grown convinced that regional relations must be restored because of practical necessities, including the search for new economic cooperation opportunities to assist Iraq as it faces a severe economic and financial crisis.
Talks with Iran
According to observers, efforts to improve relations between Riyadh and Baghdad could take advantage of the changing regional dynamics, particularly the push to resolve conflicts and achieve reconciliation.
In recent months, Iraq has hosted more than one round of talks between regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia, playing the role of mediator to resolve one of the thorniest disputes in the region.
Earlier this week, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed for the first time the Islamic republic is holding talks with its major regional rival, but said it is “too soon” to discuss the results.
Media reports, later confirmed by diplomatic and Iraqi government sources, revealed that Iranian and Saudi officials met in Baghdad in April, their first high-level meeting since Riyadh cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 2016.
The neighbouring countries also broke off relations with Iran after protestors attacked Saudi diplomatic missions following the kingdom’s execution of a revered Shia cleric.
The talks in Baghdad, facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, remained secret until the Financial Times reported that a first meeting was held on April 9.