Riyadh and Cairo actively move to shore up Abadi

Efforts by Saudi Arabia to re-engage Iraq started when Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a surprise visit in February to Baghdad.

Re-engagement. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (C-R) greeting Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi (C-L) in the holy city of Mecca, last June. (AFP)

2017/07/23 Issue: 116 Page: 13

London - Regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Egypt are actively support­ing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to help return Baghdad to the Arab fold.

High-ranking officials from all three countries have exchanged visits, signed agreements and set up councils in what are considered significant indicators of thawing re­lations.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry travelled to Baghdad July 19 for meetings with Iraqi officials, including President Fuad Masum and Foreign Minister Ibrahim al- Jaafari.

Jaafari called for more col­laboration with Egypt in combat­ing terrorism. “It is necessary to strengthen intelligence coopera­tion between Iraq and Egypt to un­dermine Daesh,” Jaafari said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS). He said Iraq was “ready to back Egypt in the face of terror­ism the same way Egypt supported Iraq’s stability and security.”

The pledges to cooperate against ISIS come after a gruelling 9-month battle between Iraqi forces and the extremists in Mosul, with Abadi de­claring victory July 10.

“Cooperation between Iraq and Egypt is necessary to defeat Daesh,” Shoukry said.

The liberation of Mosul was a major victory for Baghdad both domestically and regionally and reinvigorated the Iraqi leadership. Iraqi political analyst Hisham al- Hashimi said the events in Mosul restored “confidence of Arab coun­tries in Iraq and its efforts in the fight against terrorism.”

“Neighbouring countries and other Arab countries, such as Egypt, have alliances in counter­terrorism and programmes in that regard in Syria and Libya and partly in Iraq,” Hashimi said, adding that Iraq could provide help in those ef­forts.

Iraqi Interior Minister Qassim al- Araji and a delegation of Iraqi offi­cials went to Saudi Arabia and met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and newly appointed Interior Min­ister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Nayef.

In a statement, Iraqi Interior Min­istry adviser Wahhab al-Tai said Crown Prince Mohammed stressed the kingdom’s support for the Iraqi people and government and expressed readiness to cooperate with Iraq in all fields.

The Iraqi Ambassador to Riyadh Mahmoud al-Ani said discussions centred on the Iraqi community in the kingdom, the reopening of bor­ders and the resumption of direct flights between Riyadh and Bagh­dad, the London-based Asharq Al- Awsat reported.

Observers said Araji is likely to survive any domestic fallout from the visit due to his ties to Tehran and his high-ranking position in the Badr Organisation.

Efforts by Saudi Arabia to re-en­gage Iraq started when Saudi For­eign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a surprise visit in February to Bagh­dad, the first by a high-ranking Sau­di official since 2003. In June, Abadi met with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

“The countries agreed to estab­lish a coordination council to up­grade relations to the hoped for strategic level and open new ho­rizons for cooperation in different fields,” a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency said.

Saudi-Iraqi relations deteriorated under Saddam Hussein after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent war. Relations wors­ened following the 2003 war in which Saddam was removed from power. This resulted in the empow­erment of the country’s Shia major­ity and the marginalisation and per­secution of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

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