The skeptics questioning whether Saudi Arabia’s conspicuous overtures during the last year and a half to improve bilateral relations with Iraq will bear fruits, after twenty-five years of estrangement, may now have to reconsider their doubts.
Saudi Arabia and Iraq are engaging in a flurry of activity that is proof both sides are now fully on board efforts to establish stronger ties. Saudi Arabia opened a consulate in Baghdad April 4th. Perhaps the most geopolitically significant gift to date from the Saudis is a promise, reportedly made on April 4, to hook Iraq up to the Saudi electrical grid as part of a Saudi investment project.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi is planning an official visit to the kingdom April 17, according to media reports. And, trade delegations are shuttling back and forth between the two countries.
The Shia-dominated Iraqi government has much to gain by developing better relations with Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia. Despite growing domestic opposition to Iranian interference, Baghdad may not be able to curtail Tehran’s military might inside Iraq. However, Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies could help reduce Iraq’s economic dependence on Iran. For the Middle East, recently engulfed in sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq between Shia and Sunni, the budding rapprochement is a particularly significant sign that geopolitics trumps sectarianism. Saudi Arabia understands that the wisest strategy for competing with Iran in Iraq is through a smaller footprint, one that is based upon economic, not military or political, ties.
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