A senior Iranian official has voiced support for normalization of ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, but also called on Riyadh to stop its “destructive and unconstructive behavior” in the region.
The comments by Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, an adviser to Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, came amid wild speculations about the impact of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Riyadh, including on Iran.
Abadi on Sunday took part at the first meeting of the joint Saudi-Iraqi coordination council aimed at enhancing cooperation, that was also attended by US State Secretary Rex Tillerson.
“If relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq are normalized and Riyadh’s destructive and unconstructive behavior is halted, it is a positive development,” Abdollahian tweeted, in the first reaction of an Iranian official to the visit.
The landmark meeting appears aimed at boosting Saudi Arabia’s clout in Iraq, part of a wider regional battle for influence that extends from Syria to Yemen, the French news agency AFP said.
Abdollahian indicated that the Islamic Republic was not worried about rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iraq, saying “the strategic relationship between Tehran and Baghdad is firm and lasting.”
After attending the joint Saudi Arabia-Iraq council meeting on Sunday, Tillerson said, “This event highlights the strength and breadth as well as the great potential of the relations between your countries.”
However, history, religion and lots of politics stand in the way. Riyadh has had rocky relations with Baghdad and viewed Iraq’s proximity to Iran with enmity.
While Iraqi leaders have repeatedly praised Iran’s role in helping the Arab country confront the Takfiri menace, they have accused Saudi Arabia of supporting terrorists.
Daesh and other Takfiri groups are influenced by Saudi Arabia’s official radical ideology of Wahhabism, which is known for its lack of tolerance. In March, Fox News cited a senior Iraqi intelligence officer as saying that around 30 percent of Daesh terrorists in Iraq were Saudi nationals.
Back in April, Prime Minister Abadi also said that “every Iraqi citizen has a right to believe that Saudi Arabia is a supporter of terrorism.”
As for Iran, Abadi and other Iraqi leaders have famously said that Baghdad would have fallen to Daesh if Tehran had not rushed weapons and military advisers in time when the Arab nation’s plea for help from the West went unanswered.
Tillerson, however, accused Iran of destabilizing Iraq at a news conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after attending the meeting of the Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council with Saudi King Salman and Abadi.
“We believe this will in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq,” the US top diplomat said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reacted to the remarks. “Unfortunately, the Americans do not want to rectify their viewpoint that Iran is a source of stability and peace as well as a campaigner against terrorism in the region.”
The Iranian foreign minister, in South Africa as part of a tour of Africa, expressed regret that US allies have been the root cause of instability and crisis in the region.
Daesh launched its campaign of death and destruction in Iraq in 2014, swiftly taking towns and cities in lightning operations as the US and its allies looked on despite having a military presence in the country after years of occupation.
On Monday, Jean-Pierre Chevènement who served as French defense and interior ministers between 1988 and 2000 was quoted as saying that the two Persian Gulf wars waged by the US “which destroyed Iraq created Daesh.”