Iraq offers mediation to solve Saudi-Iran diplomatic crisis

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari says his country ‘cannot stay silent’ regarding diplomatic spat between Riyadh and Tehran

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari speaks to reporters during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq December 30, 2015.

Iraq offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran to end their dispute triggered by Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric, saying on Wednesday it could easily spill over into rest of the region.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari, speaking in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, said the row could have "wide-ranging repercussions."

"We have solid relations with the Islamic Republic (Iran) ... and also we have relations with our Arab brothers and therefore we cannot stay silent in this crisis," Jaafari told the joint press conference.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran after protesters in Tehran stormed the Saudi embassy early on Sunday in response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr along with 46 others a day earlier.

Flames and smoke rise from Saudi Arabia's embassy during a demonstration in Tehran January 2, 2016

After the incident, Saudi Arabia also ordered the Iranian diplomatic mission in Riyadh to leave the country within 48 hours.

Several other Gulf and Arab states including Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Kuwait followed suit and either cut or downgraded diplomatic ties with Iran.

However, Riyadh has also faced a backlash from Shiites around the world since carrying out the execution. At least two Sunni Muslim mosques were attacked in Iraq and two people killed in apparent retaliation against the execution on Monday.

Although Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al Abadi, who leads his divided country with a Shiite-dominated government, expressed "intense shock" at the execution of Nimr, condemning it as human rights violation, he has resisted calls by prominent Shiite leaders to cut ties with Saudi Arabia, which reopened its Baghdad embassy last week after closing it in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

Sectarian strife

Iraq, which has long been gripped by sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, fears an escalation of instability in its own country if tensions between Saudi Arabia, which is considered a champion of ultra-orthodox Sunni values, continues on its collision course with Shiite powerhouse Iran.

The contrasting policies of these two regional rivals have already clashed in Yemen, where a Saudi-led Arab coalition is defending the embattled Yemeni government from an Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebellion.

Despite both being part of the Vienna talks held in early November to end the five-year-long conflict in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iran again find themselves supporting opposing sides. While Saudi Arabia calls for Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to step down, Iran has been supporting Assad’s troops with commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force.

Meanwhile, the DAESH terrorist group, which seized swathes of land across the country in 2014 over large sections of Iraq and Syria, continues to threaten the interests of both Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region.

Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi declared 2016 the year of "final victory" against DAESH, which finds its roots in Al Qaeda of Iraq (AQI), an insurgency movement formed in 2004, a year after the US-led coalition invaded Iraq.

While DAESH has lost much of its territory due to offensives launched on numerous fronts - including by the Iraqi government backed by local Shiite militias - the terrorist group’s rise in mainly Sunni-populated territories is largely attributed to the sectarian and polarising policies pursued by the two countries’ Shiite-dominated governments.

On the other hand, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif, in the press conference with his Iraqi counterpart, accused Saudi Arabia of rebuffing Iran's offer to cooperate on "terrorism and extremism," while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Riyadh of fuelling regional tensions.

“Saudi Arabia is trying to cover up its defeats and domestic problems by creating tension in the region,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on Iranian state television on Wednesday.

TRTWorld and agencies