Iraq has taken steps to unite the Muslim world, inviting Shia Islamic Iran to join its next summit in Baghdad which it hopes will include Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Gulf allies. The move could represent a major shift in a relationship that has bordered on open conflict in recent years.
By inviting both Iran and Saudi Arabia, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi could turn the page on an ongoing war-fueled conflict in Yemen, where the two powers support dueling factions, this which ultimately led them to sever ties in 2016.
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Tensions reached new highs in 2019, when Saudi Arabia accused Iran of a 2019 assault on Saudi oil factories that briefly destroyed half of the country’s oil production.
Reuters reported that in addition to efforts to ease tensions, the summit will focus on Afghanistan, the war in Yemen, the collapse of Lebanon and a regional water crisis. In addition to the aforementioned powers, the event will include the Muslim majority countries of Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, with France also expected to play a role in easing tensions.
“Even if we bring the foreign ministers together at the same table, it could be seen as a step forward to end tensions between the Iranians and the Arabs in the Gulf,” an official close to Kadhimi told Reuters.
Witnessing the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Reuters reports that the Saudis have become concerned about the amount of support they can expect from Washington in the future, especially as the Biden administration seeks a way to return to the Iran nuclear deal, which raises security concerns among the Arabs. Gulf States.
The International Crisis Group writes that perceptions of an unreliable Washington have prompted Gulf states to consider a new diplomatic path focused on de-escalation with Iran. Such efforts could play a vital role in maintaining stability in the region, as the power vacuum left in Afghanistan could lead to the proliferation of terror.
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“The countries participating in this summit all perceive international terrorism as a threat to their national security interests,” said Ali Nazary, head of foreign relations for the Afghanistan National Resistance Front. News week. “I believe that the unity between these countries, which criticize the support that terrorism receives, and in particular that the Taliban receives in Afghanistan, is crucial for the Resistance to endure.”
The Afghanistan National Resistance Front represents a group of Afghan individuals based in the Panjshir Valley who are allies against the Taliban regime. Protected by the Hindu Kush mountain range, the region is one of the last places in the country to be free from Taliban rule.
Acting Afghan President Amrullah Saleh has ties to the group, led by Ahmad Massoud, whose father led previous military efforts against the Taliban and the Soviet Union. Together, Saleh and Massoud seek a power-sharing deal with the Taliban.
Nazary said any agreement between the countries invited to the Baghdad summit that focuses on combating terrorism would be beneficial for the Resistance. While Iran has provided aid to the Taliban in the past, the country has said the two groups do not share “affinities” for each other.
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If the Taliban harbored ISIS militants, Iran could face threats against its Shia population, given the history of attacks by the radical Sunni terror group against Shia Muslims. Likewise, despite Saudi Arabia’s Sunni roots, ISIS has called for the overthrow of its government for “trying to secularize its people.”
“The idea that these countries are against terrorism is beneficial to us because they will need resistance in Afghanistan to challenge any radical extremist regime,” Nazary said. News week.
He said that there is currently an active terrorist threat in Afghanistan.
“Right now we have foreign fighters in Afghanistan who are aligned with the Taliban,” he said. “We have Arabs from the Middle East, we have North Africans and we have Central Asians. These fighters are not in Afghanistan to stay there. They are going to plan, and they are going to plot against their own country, using it. ‘Afghanistan as a haven of peace. “
In addition to the uncertainty caused by the conflict in Afghanistan, Anthony H. Cordesman, an expert on Middle Eastern affairs and holder of the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said these countries face additional pressures brought on by COVID-19 and uncertainties over the future of the oil market.
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Taking these unknowns into account, Cordesman said the Gulf states face additional tensions over whether Iraq will emerge as an individual power or as part of Iran’s area of influence. These concerns intensified after meetings on Iraq’s partnership with the United States produced unclear results. Iraq being a barrier between Iran and the Arabian Gulf, its future remains a major concern regarding the future balance of geopolitical power in the region.
“Iraq has certainly suffered from conflicting pressures from Iran, other Arab states and the United States,” Cordesman said. News week. “In many ways, of course, it is a logical mediator, simply by geography and by the fact that Saudi Arabia and Iran have shown signs that they would like to at least moderate the tensions between them.”
As Iraq heads into election season, al-Kadhimi is looking for ways to limit Iranian influence and restrict the power of state militias. A successful summit that produces clearer positions on the issues facing the region could elevate Iraq’s status. An unsuccessful summit could further complicate Iraq’s position by balancing its alliances with its neighbors to the west and east.
However, Iraq might get lucky. Cordesman said the new Iranian government led by newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi might appreciate the meeting as a way to reduce tensions with his neighbors and lift some of the existing sanctions he finds himself in.
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What exactly this summit can bring remains an unknown. Cordesman stressed that statements of good intentions mean little when not backed up by action, especially when it comes to the Gulf.
“You have very real tensions in the Gulf affecting transport missiles and the potential future of nuclear weapons in the region,” Cordesman said. News week. “Reassuring words, if they come out and have some content, can be a good start to something, but it’s going to be very, very difficult, unless this summit produces a much clearer position than it seems. likely right now, to say that’s going to change a lot. “
Updated 8/25/2021 6:36 PM ET: This story has been updated with statements from Anthony H. Cordesman.