US backs Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement as counterweight To Iran
Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi co-headed the inaugural meeting of the joint Coordination Council on Sunday in the capital Riyadh in the presence of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Saudi Arabia and Iraq on Sunday launched a cooperation council with the support of the US, boosting their diplomatic ties in an effort to counter Iran's growing influence in the region. As London South East writes in the article US Backs Saudi-Iraqi Rapprochement As Counterweight To Iran, in recent months, ties have improved between Riyadh and Baghdad after decades of tensions.
Iraq has close links with Shiite-majority Iran, which is the regional rival of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Iran and Saudi Arabia are backing opposite sides in wars in Syria and Yemen, and Saudi officials have repeatedly accused Iran of destabilizing the region, a charge that Tehran has denied.
Joining the Saudi monarch and al-Abadi at the maiden meeting of the council, Tillerson praised the nascent forum. "The Joint Coordination Council will not only lead to closer cooperation in the fight against Daesh, but it will also help support the rehabilitation of facilities and infrastructures in the areas liberated," he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
The extremist milita has in recent months suffered military setbacks and lost ground in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. "We are encouraged to see that Saudi Arabia and Iraq have made important strides in your bilateral relationship as evidenced by the recent opening of the Arar border crossing in August and the resumption of flights between Riyadh and Baghdad last week," he said. "Both represent the beginning of what we hope will be a series of even more tangible actions to improve relations, to strengthen cooperation, on a host of issues," he said in a statement. "Your growing relationship between the kingdom and Iraq is vital to bolstering our collective security and prosperity and we take great interest in it," Tillerson said, addressing the Saudi and Iraqi leaders.
Relations between Baghdad and Riyadh were strained by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of neighbouring Kuwait. Salman on Sunday voiced his oil-rich country's backing for "Iraq's unity and stability" - a thinly-veiled reference to a recent independence referendum by the Iraqi autonomous region of Kurdistan. The US is worried that the vote and its fallout could affect its ongoing military campaigns against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The Saudi king said there was a "historic chance to build an effective partnership" between his country and Iraq.
Al-Abadi told the same meeting that he was "satisfied" with the improvement of ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. "The Iraqi-Saudi Coordination Council is the fruit of efforts and joint good intentions that express our orientations and policies," he added. "[The council] will be the basis of cooperation in all fields, mainly cooperation in fighting terrorism."
Earlier Sunday, Salman met Tillerson and discussed countering Iran's influence in the region, the US State Department said without giving further details. Later Sunday, Tillerson flew to the neighbouring Gulf emirate of Qatar, which is locked in a bitter row with a Saudi-led Arab bloc, Al Jazeera reported. He is to meet with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for talks on the months-long crisis. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt broke off diplomatic ties and transportation links with Qatar over alleged support for extremist groups. Doha has denied the accusations. Tillerson has tried unsuccessfully to resolve the row, one of the region's most serious in years. The four countries and Qatar are regional allies of the US.