Iraq Rebuilds Ties to Saudi Arabia

Iraq Rebuilds Ties to Saudi Arabia



Iraqi-Saudi relations is the most complex issue that  Iraq has to deal with. But, at the same time, it is the closest to being  resolved if the political entities of both countries prove to be serious about  resuming the historical relations that brought their countries together.

While Iraqi-Saudi relations were never at their best — except for short  periods of time — the iciness that gripped them never prevented both from  appreciating the reciprocal strategic, cultural, human and religious roles that  they played in the region and the world.

By completely cutting off Iraqi-Saudi relations in the aftermath of Iraq’s  invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia joined the ranks of the front that endeavored  throughout the 1990s to curtail the role played by Saddam Hussein’s regime,  contain its regional ambitions and eventually lead the political charge that  resulted in its downfall in 2003.

Everyone remembers that Saudi Arabian health and political crews rushed to enter Iraq in the early days that followed  the toppling of the regime, in a clear indication that the kingdom was ready to  open up politically and economically to Iraq.

But this openness never truly materialized as a result of mistakes committed  by both sides.

First, Iraqi political leaderships that ruled the country from 2003 onward  never really understood the strategic weight that Saudi Arabia possessed.  Furthermore, they often behaved and reacted in an emotional and undisciplined  manner when confronted with the role played by the kingdom in Iraq and the  region. This behavior was construed in the kingdom as an indication of Iraq’s  unwillingness to establish deep and strong relations with Riyadh, while rushing  headlong to bolster relations with Iran.

Second, in turn, Saudi Arabia did not expend real effort to restore normal  relations with Iraq, and did not return in force to the Iraqi arena — nor  did it encourage Saudi investors to do so, which the Iraqis interpreted as an  attempt by the kingdom to impose a conditional relationship.

In both cases, the subjects of terrorism and sectarian polarization in the  region greatly affected the relationship. Iraqis did not differentiate between  Saudi terrorist militants fighting in Iraq and the kingdom. Meanwhile, Saudi  Arabia construed Iraq’s relationship with Iran as emanating from a Shiite  desire to threaten the region’s Sunni Muslims.

All these ambiguities hampered the evolution of the relationship, and  increased the coldness with which each country regarded the other.

In this regard, Ali al-Mousawi, spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister, told  Al-Monitor on July 18 in Baghdad, “Relations between the two countries  were in a holding pattern as each of them considered what their political stance  would be.”

The truth is that their relationship has undergone numerous developments  during the past years, which portend to the possibility of greatly improving.  Following the Arab Summit meeting held in Baghdad in 2012, Saudi Arabia decided to appoint a non-resident ambassador to Iraq  — a move that was greatly welcomed by the Iraqis.

And, on June 15, in another sign of increasing trust, Iraq signed a prisoner exchange agreement with Saudi Arabia,  which was followed by an actual exchange of prisoners between them as a prelude  to this file being closed once and for all. Furthermore, Saudi sources confirmed earlier this month that a senior Saudi delegation  would visit Baghdad soon to pave the way for the reopening of the embassy in  Iraq.

All these indications are important, but, both sides must work toward  bolstering their relationship and put an end to the probing and shaken  confidence that has lasted for years.

Saudi Arabia must resume its active role in Iraq and open the door toward strategic  long-term relations with Baghdad. This will not only serve the interests of both  countries, but will effectively contribute in appeasing the sectarian tensions  that have been markedly increasing in the Middle East over the past years.

The pivotal role that Iraq and Saudi Arabia can play in restoring balance to  the region previously justified the prolonged periods of mistrust that  characterized their relationship. It should now justify ending this period and  start a new one predicated upon the preservation of their mutual interests.