Riyadh seeks to expand sphere of influence

Tehran, April 9, IRNA - Experts on Middle East affairs refered to the recent trip of a Saudi delegation to Baghdad, and said Saudis are looking to expand ties and influence in the new Iraqi situation and this could affect Riyadh's regional power.

The news media reported last week that a Saudi high-ranking delegation was to enter Iraq to enter into economic and trade agreements with the country, IRNA reported.

The Saudi Daily Okkaz, wrote on Wednesday (April 3rd) that the high-ranking delegation consisting of seven ministers, dozens of officials from ministries and government agencies and private companies arrived in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, for a two-day official visit.

Okkaz called the delegation 'the largest and most important Saudi delegation' that has traveled to Iraq over the past years.

Considering the importance of the Saudi delegation's visit to Baghdad, which took place before Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi's visit to Tehran, the IRNA interviewed with Ardeshir Pashang, an expert on Middle East and Iraq affairs.

** Iraq; The bridge between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Pashang said at the beginning of the interview, “The Saudis, after a decade of denial of the Iraqi system, saw the developments in 2003 detrimental for themselves as Shias groups, which are allies of Iran, have taken power in the democratic structure of Iraq. The Saudis did not open their embassy in Iraq for a decade, and they were one of the accused of serious insecurity in this country.

The expert said the Saudis are looking to expand relations in the new Iraqi situation. Over the past two years, the growing interest of Saudi Arabia and the Iraqi side has led to a new level of political communications between the two countries.

He went on to say that Saudi Arabia is looking for more influence in Iraq and containing the Islamic Republic's influence in the country, and the Kurds, Sunni Arabs and a Shia current wants to expand cooperation with the Riyadh government.

The expert also said that Iraqis are trying to triumph in regional arena after the three decades of absence in the Middle East region, and in the region, once again becomes one of the effective actors in terms of good political and economic capacities in the Middle East, and this issue is important for the Iraqis both in terms of self-confidence and prestige.

According to Pashang, Iraqi officials seem to pursue a secret strategy for balancing in the region, as Iraq is heavily influenced by a regional and trans-regional state.

On the one hand, the United States has the most influence on the developments in Iraq, and on the other hand, the Islamic Republic has had particular effects on the developments in Iraq. Therefore, Iraqi statesmen seek to achieve a positive balance, ie, to give common or balancing privileges to other actors in the regional and trans-regional area, including Russia, Turkey and most recently Saudi Arabia.

Pashang made the remark that the presence of Saudi Arabia in Iraq has led it to play a mediating role as the bridge between Tehran and Riyadh and to reduce the tension between the two sides. If the Iraqis succeed in solving this issue, they will naturally buy some sort of regional prestige and weight, and will return much more quickly to regional developments and competitions.

“During the visit of the Saudi delegation to Iraq and immediately the visit of Adil Abdul Mahdi to Iran, which is a response to the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Iraq in less than a month, Baghdad with the green light of Iran and Saudi Arabia seeks to détente and reduce tensions between the parties.

**Saudi Arabia's leverage to expand influence in Iraq

Traditionally, Sunni Arabs have a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, secular Shias who are members of the Al-Iraqiya coalition, and considers Al- Iraqiya as a symbol of unity, have a close relationship with the Saudis.

He said other issues is nomadic and traditional tribes in Iraq in which Saudi Arabia has a significant influence in these Sunni areas, and the Nineveh and Anbar areas are considered to be areas of Saudi influence. Among the Kurds, the Democratic Kurdish party led by Massoud Barzani has relatively good relations with Saudi Arabia.

Pashang also referred to the Shias of Iraq and underlined that Among the Shias, over the past two years, if we look out,' Muqtada al-Sadr ', now the first coalition in the formation of the Iraqi government, wants to expand ties with Saudi Arabia. This will, political interest and relations are one of the domains of Saudi influence in Iraq, is new.

The expert expressed, “One of the tools of influence of Saudi Arabia in Iraq is a significant financial investment, which is what Iraqis are in desperate need of, whether in reconstruction or welfare services, to the people of that country which is one of the most important problems of the Iraqi government in recent years, and these factors have put together the Saudis to use these tools and have more presence.”

He said the sanctions of Iran by the United States and increased regional economic pressure on Iran would increase the opportunity for the Saudis, and this has become an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to become more prominent in Iraq.

**Iraq and balancing relation of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the US

Ardeshir Pashang stated, 'Iraq is currently the third triangle in which Iran is always one of the sides, and the other side are Saudi Arabia and the United States. On the one hand, Iraq is struggling to balance ties between Iran and the United States, and it needs to be in touch with Iran, and it wants to manage this relationship. It is not possible to cut off this relationship for Iraq.

He pointed to the American pressure on the Iraqi government and added, 'The Iraqi government is under the pressure of the United States to cut its economic relationship with Iran, or to reduce it on a structural level, and on the other hand witness heavy competition between Riyadh and Tehran, although signs of the sides are interested in reducing tension, but there is a real tension between the parties and the presence of Saudi Arabia in the US-led coalition that will put pressure on Iran.

The expert stressed that at this juncture is important for an experienced and influential politicians, and it must be seen that Adil Abdul Mahdi and the current Iraqi politicians who are in power have the potential that to make a kind of balance in the relations between Tehran-Washington and Tehran- Riyadh so that there is no threat for Iraq in this situation and to overshadow the Iraqi national interests, but rather to gain more benefits from it.

Pashang added, 'Iraqis use Iran's pressure to increase their regional power and influence, but at the same time it cannot be ignored that this country can play a positive role in economic relations with Iran at the regional level In any case, equilibrium is a serious matter, and should it be seen whether Mr. Abdul Mahdi has the potential to create a kind of balance in relations?


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