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Middle East powers partake in Iraq summit in blow to ‘Arab NATO’

Iraq’s parliamentary summit has brought together the country’s neighbors in what has been described as “a display of rare regional unity”, further sidelining a US initiative to form an “Arab NATO”.

The one-day summit, hosted by Iraq’s Parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbusi, brings together representatives from Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Kuwait on Saturday.

Speaking on Friday, the young Iraqi speaker welcomed the foreign delegations, describing Baghdad as a historical center of “Arabism, Islam and peace”.

“Iraq, proud, prideful and victorious over terrorism, is honored by the presence of its neighbors in Baghdad,” he added.

His deputy, Bashir Haddad, said the summit will have a “significant” impact on cooperation related to the region’s security and stability.

He called the summit “a valuable initiative and opportunity for strategic partnerships between Iraq and its neighbors.”

“This is a positive message to all neighboring countries and the world that Iraq is determined to regain its health and return to its Arab, regional environment and assume its rightful place in the map of the balance of power,” he added.

Iran’s Parliament speaker Ali Larijani is represented by MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the former chairman of the chamber’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee.

Larijani had initially planned to take part in the summit but was unable to do so due to a conflicting work schedule, reports said.

The summit marks yet another important watershed in a recent booming of diplomatic cooperation in a region that was largely been bedeviled by bloody conflicts in recent years.

Despite US presence in Iraq seeking to sideline Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi have exchanged what have been described as “historic” visits in the past two months.

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The summit in Iraq is a major diplomatic development for Damascus, marking the first time in years it participates in a gathering also attended Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Both Syria and Iraq are buoyed by their triumphant routing of terrorist and other militant groups, with Iran providing crucial military advisory assistance at the most sensitive junctures. 

The battle has brought the three neighbors closer, helping them to expand political and economic ties.

Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri recently spoke of an initiative to link the three countries “via rail and road” earlier this month.

On Friday, Syrian Parliament speaker Hammouda al-Sabbagh expressed gratitude for Iran’s assistance in Syria as he met Boroujerdi, saying “no country has helped us as much as Iran”.

“Iran and Syria were partners against terrorism and now we hope to continue that partnership in reconstruction efforts addressing the damage left by the terrorist presence,” he said.

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Al-Sabbagh also said that he was anticipating Larijani to visit Damascus, describing high level relations with Tehran as a “source of pride”.

Boroujerdi congratulated the Syrian nation and government for prevailing over terrorism and condemned US President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of the Syrian Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

The Iranian parliamentary representative also described the Baghdad summit as “an important step” in advancing “regional unity”.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran welcomes Mohammed al-Halbusi’s innovative parliamentary summit between Iraq’s neighbors,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s participation in the heightened regional partnership initiative contrasts with US plans to form an “Arab NATO” to counter Iran in the region.

Earlier this month, Egypt pulled out of the anti-Iran alliance, further weakening the American initiative.  

The parliamentary summit comes as reports indicate that Iraqi officials have been trying to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia in recent months.

Baghdad seeks to also strengthen its diplomatic and security ties with its southern neighbor after years of distrust over Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorists in Iraq.

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has time and again underlined the need for amicable ties between all countries in the region.

Back in January, Zarif told a gathering of representatives from hundreds of Iranian and Iraqi companies in Baghdad that if regional countries wanted a strong region, they had to substitute dialog for war as well as cooperation for an arms race.

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