JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Iraq’s caretaker prime minister, whose country is mired in political crisis, says it is in Iraq’s interest to keep pushing for a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia to ease regional tensions.
Speaking to The Associated Press Friday evening, Mustafa al-Kadhimi said Iraq intended to keep up its role hosting talks between the two Mideast neighbors whose rivalry has often played out in Iraq, leading to perpetual paralysis.
“Iraq contributed to the Saudi-Iranian rapprochement, and several sessions held were successful and fruitful, and a great rapprochement took place,” he said. He added Iraqi will continue to encourage dialogue between the two sides.
Al-Kadhimi spoke to the AP on the flight to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where U.S. President Joe Biden was set to meet with heads of state from six Arab Gulf countries, plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
At a bilateral meeting with Biden Saturday, al-Kadhimi spoke about the “strategic, friendly relationship” between the U.S. and Iraq, and he thanked the U.S. for providing support to combat terrorist groups.
Biden said he wanted to support Iraq’s democracy.
“I want the press and you to know we want to be helpful as we can in doing that,” he said.
The U.S. and Iraq also renewed their committement to a bilateral strategic agreement overseeing security, economic and aid, according to a joint statement issued after their meeting. This also includes continued military assistance and training in the fight against the Islamic State. Biden also commended al-Kadhimi for his diplomatic efforts to broker talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Iraq has the deepest and strongest links to Iran of all the Arab countries. Iraq’s its presence at the meeting reflects Saudi efforts — supported by the U.S. — to bring Iraq closer to Arab positions and the so-called Arab fold. Iraq has hosted around five rounds of direct talks between Saudi and Iranian officials since Biden took office, though the talks have produced few results.
“We have seen positive reactions to the role played by Iraq by the Iranian and Saudi sides and also at the level of regional and international leaders,” al-Kadhimi said.
Iraq has been without a government since national elections were held in October. Powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who won the most seats, withdrew from the government formation last month, following eight months of stalemate and jockeying with rival, Iran-backed Shiite factions. In line with his orders, the members of his parliamentary bloc resigned.
If the political crisis extends to August, it will be the longest that Iraq has gone without a government since elections.
Asked about normalization of ties between Israel and Gulf Arab states, al-Kadhimi said that did not involve Iraq nor would he express an opinion.
“Iraq believes in the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries and the non-interference of others in its affairs,” he said. Each country has its own policy, he said, adding that Saturday’s summit in Jeddah was not concerned with this issue.
At his private meeting with Biden Saturday, al-Kadhimi said he will stress Iraq’s interest in continuing political, economic and security cooperation between Iraq and the U.S. in the context of the strategic agreement signed between the two countries.
At the summit, he said Iraq will address several files related to strengthening peace and security in the region as well as economic cooperation between the countries of the Middle East. Among the ideas Iraq has been proposing is the establishment of a Middle East Development Bank, which al-Kadhimi said would contribute to building common ground for economic cooperation and financing major projects, especially in infrastructure.