There has been a gradual improvement in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq since 2015, and there have been a number of notable developments in recent months. Last November, it was Arar border crossing The main crossing between the two countries opened for the first time in 30 years. In late March, during prof A trip to Riyadh By the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, the two countries signed a number of agreements covering economic and cultural relations. Most importantly, the kingdom committed to a significant increase in investment in Iraq: Reaching $ 3 billion, Out of a current total of about $ 500 million. Then, less than 10 days after Al-Kazemi’s trip, according to ReportsHis government has hosted direct talks between the Saudis and their regional rival, Iran. The talks have reportedly focused on Yemen.
The Saudis allegedly cut ties with Iran after the demonstrations damaged their diplomatic facilities in Iran, but in reality, King Salman used this as an excuse to sever ties. In what was likely a coincidence, two days before the Saudis cut ties with Iran, they officially reopened their embassy in Baghdad for the first time in 26 years, a project that had been in the pipeline since the previous year. Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are considered the most anti-Iranian leaders in the kingdom’s history, so their decision to open a dialogue now is a big step.
An Iraqi official comments on the talks, Observed Al-Kazemi is “very keen” for Iraq to play the role of a “bridge” between its two hostile neighbors.
The talks hosted by Iraq portend a potential new dynamic in the relationship between Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia – the three major players in the Persian Gulf – that has been in the making for decades.
A Brief History of Balance Changes
Since 2003, outside commentators have often viewed the Gulf as a bipolar system, shaped by the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The contemporary Middle East has always been multipolar and, from a historical perspective, the Persian Gulf sub-region is best understood as triangular. Beginning in the early 1970s when Britain withdrew from the region and from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia A competition for dominance. Iran, which was then under the rule of the Shah and was the largest and most powerful of the three players, tried to impose its control over the entire region. Ba’athist Iraq, the second largest of the three players, sought to consolidate its hegemony over the Arab side of the Gulf and dominated the Arab Gulf monarchies, including Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were the smallest, there was hardly an army to speak of, they were the weakest of the three. In discussions with the other two about Gulf security, their goal was to thwart the dominant institutions of their larger neighbors, while asserting their control over the smaller Gulf states.
In this context, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can be considered the “owner” of the Gulf scale. According to realist theory, “Owner“From balance, or“ balancing ”, in the power balance system is a state that is not permanently in line with any other country or alliance of states. Its goal is to balance the competing axes, and swing back and forth as necessary. In the case of Saudi Arabia in the 1970s The primary condition for its ability to play the balancing role was that it had better relations with both Iran and Iraq than with others. The Saudis were certainly suspicious of the Shah’s imperial ambitions, but his country, like theirs, was a pro-US monarchy. Likewise, the Saudis did not They trust Saddam Hussein, but at least he was one of his Sunni Arab comrades When the Shah or Saddam pushed for a regional policy that the Saudis did not like, they could turn to the other to thwart the initiative.
The Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War disturbed the Saudis’ delicate balancing act. The Saudis, who viewed revolutionary Iran as the greatest threat, stood in that war with Ba’athist Iraq. Although many analysts refer to this as the moment when the Saudi-Iranian rivalry began, the goal of the Saudis at the time was to rebalance the two biggest players in the Gulf. Although Iraq undoubtedly started that terrible war, Iran was the opponent that refused to end it until 1988.
The Saudis have allied with Iraq as long as Iran continues the war, but crucially, they still are He reached out to Iran. Thus, for example, then Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal traveled to Tehran in 1985, at the height of the war. Saudi-Iranian relations reached their lowest point after the Hajj season in 1987, when Saudi security forces overreacted to an Iranian demonstration and killed 402 pilgrims, most of them Iranian. But in the next year’s Hajj, which coincided with the end of the war, the Saudis made an important goodwill gesture to the Iranians: King Fahd expressed his sorrow at the absence of Iranian pilgrims, as a result of the outbreak of the war the previous year. The goal of the Saudis was to re-establish a functional relationship with Iran so that they could restore the Gulf balance once the war ended.
Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 shocked Riyadh and permanently suspended the Saudis’ ability to swing between Iran and Iraq. The Saudis cut ties with Iraq and were hoping that Saddam would be replaced. While they were not enthusiastic about the George W. Bush administration’s invasion to topple Saddam, in the 1990s and early 2000s they supported plans to stir up a coup in Baghdad to bring a new Iraqi leader to power – a Sunni Arab general – who could work. With.
Now, of course, we know that the American invasion did not bring another Sunni Arab dictator, but rather a Shiite-dominated parliamentary system. Saudi King Abdullah, who ruled from 2005 to 2015, hardly viewed the new Iraq, led by Shiites, as a counterbalance partner to Iran. In fact, he saw it as an ally – even a subordinate of Iran – and a launching pad for its hegemonic ambitions. This was a pioneer Exaggeration On Abdullah’s part, the current Saudi leadership was more ready for a Shiite-led Iraq, even if undoubtedly they were deeply nostalgic for a Sunni leadership.
Abdullah was right about one thing: When Saddam was in power, the Saudis were the Gulf player who had the best relations with each of the other two. Once the Iraqi Shiites, who had deep ties to their brethren of religion in Iran, became empowered in Baghdad, the Saudis lost this advantage. Iraq is always likely to have a predominantly Shiite and Arab leadership class with better relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia than the other two. While Saudi Arabia once had the advantage of being able to swing between its two more powerful Gulf neighbors, that privilege now returns to Iraq. Indeed, Iraq, crippled by decades of war, is today the weakest player in the Gulf. In short, it occupies a position as the owner of the Gulf scale that was occupied by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia before.
A new role for Iraq?
In recent years, Iraq has aimed to pursue a foreign policy of non-alignment, with balanced relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraqi prime ministers often schedule trips to Tehran and Riyadh together in order to show this balance. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the time Notice In 2017, the Iraqis “refuse to be part of the axes policy.” In fact, he said, Iraq was a “victim” of regional rivalries.
The advantage of Iraq in this non-aligned position is that over time – if it can remain unbiased – it will be able to play its powerful neighbors in the Gulf against each other, as Saudi Arabia did a generation ago. But it could also serve as a bridge between Iran and Saudi Arabia, as Prime Minister Al-Kazemi appears to be intending today. Indeed, Iraq is the natural place for Iran and Saudi Arabia to resolve their differences. And Iraq wants to bridge the Saudi-Iranian division. The Iraqi official also commented on the talks hosted by Iraq Observed“It is in the interest of Iraq to play this role. The more confrontation in the region, the more they will play here.” The Saudi-Iranian detente means a quieter region and a quieter Iraq.
In the near term, it is not at all clear whether Iraq will be able to do so. It is not at all certain that Saudi Arabia and Iran do indeed have the will to reconcile. The talks have so far reportedly focused on Yemen. There the Saudis are mired in a quagmire that is costing them a fortune. Iran supports the Houthi rebels, but it just needs to spend a pittance on them. The Saudis need Iran to convince the Houthis to end the war they are winning and in which Saudi cities are under constant threat of missile and drone attacks. If the talks brokered by Iraq result in a ceasefire, that would be a significant improvement in regional tensions and help mitigate the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
It is likely that Iraq is still much weaker than exercising the kind of influence over its two neighbors that would help advance reconciliation. But the Saudi-Iranian talks said to have taken place in Iraq earlier this month may herald a dynamic that will fully emerge in the future. In short, the Gulf region is not bipolar. It is triangular. Iraq, which has been out of service for many years, will return as a major player. Once this happens, it can help ease tensions between the other two.
The United States should quietly support the Iraqi effort. It is in our interest to reduce sectarian tensions in the region. President Biden made ending the war in Yemen a priority. Help Baghdad for the benefit of all in ending this tragedy.