Why do Shia Islamists fear Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement?
The office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi circulated rumours in March that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz would soon make a visit to Baghdad.
The rumours claimed the crown prince would meet with Iraqi leaders, discuss bilateral cooperation on issues such as security, counterterrorism and the economy of both countries and try to repair ties that have been badly frayed since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990.
Surely, this is good news. After all, it was only very recently that Iraq and some sponsors, including Kuwait, attended a conference to raise funds for reconstruction and redevelopment following the defeat of the Islamic State (ISIS).
One of the countries that pledged donations and investments was Saudi Arabia. Riyadh pledged $1.5 billion and was joined by other countries and institutions in raising a total of $30 billion — far short of what Baghdad hoped to raise.
Still, Saudi Arabia’s willingness to engage with Iraq and invest in its future should have been viewed positively. Unfortunately for those hoping to see closer cooperation between the region’s countries and therefore a greater chance for peace, prosperity and security, this was not the case.
When word of Crown Prince Mohammed’s visit to Iraq was leaked, segments of the media reported that Iraqis were massing on the streets of Baghdad to oppose any visit by the crown prince, a man they dubbed a “war criminal.”
Outlets such as Iran’s Press TV peddled misinformation and pushed the story that “thousands of Iraqis” were protesting the crown prince’s visit. With all the media attention regarding the rumours, and protests, one would be forgiven for believing that most Iraqis are fervently against their Saudi neighbours and want nothing to do with them.
It did not take long, however, for Iraq watchers to debunk the myth that the protests were organised by average Iraqis, so much as they were orchestrated by pro-Iran Shia Islamists with a rabidly sectarian bent.
First, and contrary to what Press TV reported, there were hundreds of demonstrators and not thousands. Second, and more important, images from the “protests” clearly show that the only people demonstrating against a visit by Crown Prince Mohammed were pro-Iran militant Khomeinists, who have made Iraq the living hell that it is today and are a direct cause behind the rise of ISIS.
Images from the protest show the demonstration site decked with flags and banners of the hard-core militant Shia Islamist group Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi offshoot of the Lebanese Hezbollah, yet another Iranian proxy. Both militant outfits are tightly intertwined with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and are responsible for numerous vicious sectarian attacks against civilians.
So why are Iran-linked extremists so bent out of shape over any visit by the Saudi crown prince? They regularly claim they want closer ties with their Arab brothers, yet, when such visits are rumoured and not even confirmed, they lose their minds. The answer, as is usually the case in modern Iraq, lies to the east and in the Iranian capital, Tehran.
Simply put, the Iranians never want to lose influence in Iraq because, if they do, they would lose the linchpin to their regional expansionist agenda. Closer bonds between Arabs pose a threat to Iranian imperialism and that the Iranians simply cannot abide.