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KSA seeks Iraq's mediation to mend ties with Iran

Unrest in Saudi Arabia town displaces thousands


Al Jazeera | Published: August 15, 2017 03:29:33 | Updated: October 24, 2017 23:34:13


Qasim al-Araji

RIYADH, Aug 14 (Agencies): The government of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has sought the help of Iraq's prime minister to mend relations between 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.

"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.

Separately, Muqtada al-Sadr, the influential Iraqi Shia leader, announced on his website that he would be visiting the UAE on Sunday.

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

Sadr, an anti-American figure, commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, including Saraya al-Salam, or Peace Brigades armed group.

He is now seen as a nationalist who has repeatedly called for protests against corruption in the Iraqi government, and his supporters have staged huge protests in Baghdad calling for electoral reform.

The visits by the Iraqis come as the Arab Gulf region remains embroiled in its worst crisis in years - a dispute between Qatar and a Saudi-led bloc comprising the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday, Saad Jawad, a political science professor at the London School of Economics, termed the Saudi-Iraqi diplomatic moves "odd".

"If Saudi Arabia is [in a dispute] with Qatar about Qatar's relationship with Iran ... how could they ask the Iraqis to amend their relations with Iran?

"The Saudis know very well that Iraq is a little bit biased in [its] relations with the Iranians, and they are under the influence of the Iranians."

Jawad said Saudi Arabia could have asked a more neutral broker like Kuwait or Oman, both of which have "good relations" with Iran.

For Reza Khaasteh, a journalist for the Tehran-based Iran Front Page website, the offer is a "sincere move" by Riyadh given the recent "signals exchanged betweent the two sides".

Khaasteh pointed out that ahead of the announcement on Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir held brief talks with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif at the sideline of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Istanbul on August 1.

 Meanwhile, Saudi forces say they have cleared almost all of what they call "criminals and terrorists" from a mostly Shia town in the kingdom's east.

Thousands of people have had to leave their homes in Awamiya, located in Qatif region of the Eastern Province.

Activists from the area say the people have been removed against their will.

Human Rights Watch said on Sunday that Saudi security forces have completely "surrounded and sealed off" Awamiya.

The New York-based group said that, based on comparative satellite imagery from February and August, large sections of the town have sustained extensive damage, including to civilian infrastructure.

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