Saudi Arabia ‘seeks Iraq’s help’ to mend ties with Iran

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The government of Saudi Arabia has sought the help of Iraq’s prime minister to mend relations Riyadh and Tehran, according to news reports.

Citing Qasim al-Araji, Iraq’s interior minister, the Iraqi satellite channel Alghadeer reported that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has asked Haider al-Abadi to lead the mediation with Iran.

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“During our visit to Saudi Arabia, they also asked us to do so, and we said that to [the] Iranian side. The Iranian side looked at this demand positively,” Araji was quoted saying by Alghadeer on Sunday.

“After the victories that Iraq has achieved, it [Saudi Arabia] began looking to Iraq, at its true size and leading role.

“The calm and stability and the return of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have positive repercussions on the region as a whole.”

Araji visited the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Saturday to discuss “several issues” with top Iranian officials, according to reports. He also visited Saudi Arabia in July.

The Iranian news agency ISNA quoted Araji in Farsi as saying that Mohammed bin Salman wanted to “ease tensions” with Iran.

Shia-majority Iraq lies on the faultline between Shia Iran and Sunni-ruled Arab Gulf monarchies including Saudi Arabia. In 2016 Iraq offered to mediate between the two countries.

In January 2016, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with Iran after an attack by protesters on its embassy in Tehran.

Protesters were angrily reacting to Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr, who was put to death along with 46 mostly Sunni Muslims convicted on terrorism charges.

At that point, the rival regional powers had been engaged in a war of words following the death of Iranian Hajj pilgrims outside Mecca in 2015.

Iran said at least 460 Iranians were killed in the incident, but Saudi Arabia officially reported only 131 Iranians dead.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have also accused each other of backing proxies in the war in Yemen and Syria.

Sunday’s news report by ISNA quoted Araji as saying that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud had earlier made the same request to him.

Araji reportedly told Salman saying that Riyadh “should show the best behaviour towards Iranian pilgrims”, by allowing them to visit Janna al-Baqi cemetery, an important site for Shia Muslims located in Medina.

“The Saudi side has made certain promises in this regard, and the doors to the cemetery is already open to Iranian pilgrims,” Araji was quoted as saying, according to an English translation by Iran Front Page of the ISNA report.

In the same report, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, Iran’s interior minister, is quoted saying that it is important to respect and maintain the “dignity” of Iranian Hajj pilgrims, adding that Iran has “always sought cordial relations” with Saudi Arabia.

“Iran’s policy is to have effective cooperation with regional states, and Tehran has never been the first to sever its relations with others,” he said.

In a related development, Iraq’s Muqtada al-Sadr announced on his website his visit to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

In July, Sadr had also made a rare visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met Mohammed bin Salman and other officials.

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