Antichrist is Unifying the People (Revelation 13)

Erbil delegation to visit Najaf for meeting with Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr

Rudaw
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Kurdistan Region’s delegation tasked with holding official talks on the independence referendum is scheduled to meet with influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Najaf, some 170 kilometers south of Baghdad.

Sadr called on Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in July to “postpone” and eventually “cancel” the Kurdistan referendum on independence planned for September 25.

“Iraq is one and is for all,” Sadr said in a written statement at the time.

The visiting delegation is expected to return to Baghdad on Sunday to resume what has been described as “important” and “decisive” talks with the ruling Shiite National Alliance which also includes Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa party.

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, also a former PM, is the head of the Dawa Party.

Sadr’s Movement has 34 seats in the Iraqi parliament. It is a member of the Shiite National Alliance but has suspended its membership due to political differences with other members of the Alliance, in particular Maliki’s State of Law Coalition.

Sadr was recently visited the United Arab Emirates, after a similar visit to Saudi Arabia where he met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MoB as he is known, a staunch opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq and the region.

The cleric Sadr is behind the weekly protests against the Iraqi government as well as the Kurdish-headed Iraqi election commission. His angry supporters even stormed the Iraqi parliament building in April, the first such incident to occur since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The delegation visited Baghdad on Monday and has since met with many Iraqi officials, including PM Abadi, VP Maliki, Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri, and the Shiite National Alliance. The Iraqi officials have said that any step taken by the Kurdistan Region including the referendum should have constitutional backing, with Maliki suggesting that the constitution may have to be amended in order to allow the vote.

They also met with more than a dozen embassies in the Iraqi capital including those from the United States, Iran, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Baghdad has called the referendum unconstitutional and unilateral, and said it will not recognize the result. The Kurdistan Region says Iraq pushed Erbil into calling for the referendum by violating at least 50 articles of the Iraqi constitution, including Article 140 that concerns disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad, and the budget-share which was cut in early-2014.

The visiting Kurdistani negotiating team maintains that they are sticking to holding the referendum on its stated time in September.

However, a Kurdish source with knowledge of the negotiations and who asked not to be named, told Rudaw that there is “a small chance” that the Kurdistan Region would agree to postpone the referendum until after the Iraqi elections if Baghdad guarantees to give the go-ahead for the referendum at a later date.

The guarantee should come “in writing” and be observed by the United Nations and the United States, the source explained.

The source said the delegation showed a softer line since the Iraqi ruling Shiite National Alliance expressed their willingness to solve all outstanding issues that pushed Erbil to call the referendum.

Antichrist Has Unified the Islamic Horns (Revelation 13)

Saudi, Iraqi leaders ‘draw closer’ after Sadr meeting

Al Jazeera

The motivation for Muqtada al-Sadr, an Iraqi Shia Muslim scholar, to meet the Saudi crown prince last month was an attempt to roll back Iranian influence in Iraq, seek a leadership role and tone down sectarianism between the two countries, analysts say.

Sadr, who is openly hostile to the United States, was hosted on July 30 by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The reason behind the gathering in Jeddah centred on a shared interest in countering Iranian influence in Iraq, Baghdad-based analyst Ahmed Younis said.

Saudi-Iran row: Iraq offers to mediate

Sadr’s visit to Saudi Arabia is a bold shift of his policy to deliver a message to regional, influential Sunni states that not all Shia groups carry the label ‘Made in Iran’.”

For Sadr, who has a large following among the poor in Baghdad and southern Iraqi cities, it was part of efforts to bolster his Arab and nationalist image ahead of elections where he faces Shia rivals close to Iran.

“This is both a tactical and strategic move by Sadr. He wants to play the Saudis off against the Iranians, shake down both sides for money and diplomatic cover,” said Ali Khedery, who was a special assistant to five US ambassadors in Iraq.

Ultimately, Sadr seeks a leadership role in Iraq that would allow him to shape events without becoming embroiled in daily administration, which could erode his popularity, diplomats and analysts say.

Days after the Jeddah meeting, Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who has also taken an assertive line against Iran, the dominant foreign power in Iraq since the 2003 US invasion ended Sunni minority rule.

Iran has since increased its regional influence, with its forces and allied fighters spearheading the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levane (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and holding sway in Baghdad.

For Saudi Arabia, less Iranian influence in Iraq would be a big win in a rivalry that underpins conflict across the Middle East.

“There are plans to secure peace and reject sectarianism in the region,” Sadr told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper last week, saying that it was “necessary to bring Iraq back into the Arab fold”.

When asked what Saudi Arabia hoped to achieve with Sadr’s recent visit to the Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi official at the Saudi embassy in Washington said: “Saudi Arabia hopes to encourage Iraqis to work together to build a strong resilient and independent state. With that in mind, it will reach out to any party who could contribute to achieving that goal”.

Limited Influence

A politician close to Sadr said the Jeddah meeting was aimed at building confidence and toning down sectarian rhetoric between the two countries.

The rapprochement is “a careful testing of the waters with the Abadi government and some of the Shia centres of influence like Sadr and the interior minister,” said Ali Shihabi, executive director of the Washington-based Arabia Foundation.

Another sign of rapprochement is an agreement to increase direct flights to a daily basis.

Iraqi Airways hopes to reopen offices in Saudi airports to help Iraqis travel to the kingdom, especially for pilgrimages, Iraq’s transport ministry said.

As OPEC producers, the two countries cooperated in November to support oil prices. Their energy ministers discussed bilateral cooperation and investment last week.

Iranian reaction to the meetings has however been minimal.

“Iraqi personalities and officials do not need our permission to travel outside of Iraq or to report to us,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said last week, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

 

The Realpolitik of the Antichrist (Revelation 13)

Iraqi Shiite cleric’s Saudi, UAE trips show Gulf realpolitik

Brunswick News

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric, notorious for his followers’ deadly attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq over a decade ago and thought at times to have ties to Iran, has two new stamps in his passport — from the two fiercest Sunni critics of Tehran in the Gulf.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s trips to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates come as the two nations want to limit Iran’s influence in the wider Middle East, especially with Iranian-backed Shiite militias leading the fight against the Islamic State group on Iraqi battlefields.

Meanwhile, the chameleonic cleric hopes to cement his own standing ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections next year, part of his makeover from a militia warlord whose fighters battled American forces to an Iraqi nationalist who can fill Baghdad’s streets with his protesting followers.

How far any possible alliance between al-Sadr and the Gulf Arab countries could go remains to be seen, though photos of the black-turbaned Shiite cleric meeting with Sunni rulers already has stirred speculation in Iran.

“Why has Muqtada al-Sadr sold himself to the Al Saud?” the hard-line Iranian newspaper Keyhan bluntly asked after his visit, referring to Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The paper also warned that if al-Sadr continued on this path, “his popularity will fall and he will become an isolated person.”

Such harsh criticism from Iran would have been unthinkable in the years immediately following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

While Sunni Muslims represent the world’s principal branch of Islam, Shiites are the majority in Iraq. Neighboring Iran has had a government overseen by Shiite clerics since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government massacred Shiites after the 1991 Gulf War and continued imprisoning, torturing and executing others up to his overthrow.

Al-Sadr, the son of a prominent Shiite cleric assassinated in a 1999 attack believed to be organized by Saddam, quickly organized Shiite dispossessed under Saddam against the American occupation.

“The little serpent has left and the great serpent has come,” al-Sadr told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” program in 2003.

Saddam loyalists and Shiite extremists alike would soon fight an insurgency against the American forces. Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia fought American forces throughout much of 2004 in Baghdad and other cities.

Al-Sadr’s forces are believed to have later taken part in the sectarian killings between Shiites and Sunnis that plagued Iraq for several years after the bombing of one of the holiest sites in Shiite Islam. Al-Sadr left for Qom, a holy Shiite city in Iran, for religious studies around the time that his forces accepted a cease-fire in the 2008 battle of Basra, in southern Iraq.

Since that time much has changed.

Al-Sadr’s followers have taken part in Iraqi military offensives against the Islamic State group in Tikrit and other cities. He has organized rallies against government corruption, including breaching the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, the highly secure area housing government offices and many foreign embassies.

On July 30, al-Sadr traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the next in line to the throne. The state-run Saudi Press Agency published a photograph of King Salman’s son smiling next to the cleric, only saying the two “reviewed the Saudi-Iraqi relations and a number of issues of mutual interest.”

In the UAE, al-Sadr met on Sunday with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nayhan, Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, and other officials.

“Experience has taught us to always call for what brings Arabs and Muslims together, and to reject the advocates of division,” Sheikh Mohammed said in a statement carried on the state-run WAM news agency.

Anwar Gargash, the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, tweeted after the meeting that it was part of an effort to “build bridges” between the Gulf Arab nations and Iraq.

“Our ambition is to see a prosperous, stable Arab Iraq,” Gargash wrote. “The challenge is great and the prize is bigger.”

Using “Arab” to describe Iraq is no accident for the UAE, which opposed the 2003 American invasion. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia want to limit Shiite-ruled Iran’s power in Iraq.

“There are serious questions about how to help encourage Iraqi stability and minimize Iranian influence in the country,” said Lori Plotkin Boghardt, a former U.S. intelligence official who now is a fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Building ties with someone like al-Sadr is part of the Saudis’ and Emiratis’ answer to this.”

One of the biggest question marks ahead for Iraq is what happens after the war against the Islamic State group.

Shiite militias advised by members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard have proved to be among the most effective ground forces in the fight against IS. Disarming or incorporating the groups into existing security forces likely would be a major challenge for the national government.

Al-Sadr, already a respected Shiite cleric with a massive base of followers, demanded in March that Shiite militias disband, saying only Iraqi national forces should hold territory in the country. Though many among the militias disagree, saying they have proven their credentials in battle against IS, al-Sadr’s stand could provide Baghdad with the cover it needs to do so.

“This would be, of course, music to the Gulf countries’ ears,” said Fanar Haddad, a senior research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore.

For al-Sadr, whose loyalists represent one of the biggest blocs in Iraq’s parliament, his foreign trips burnish his credentials as an Iraqi leader. However, it remains unclear what he wants — and whether any tilt toward the Sunni Gulf countries truly would represent a total break with Iran for the Iraqi nationalist.

“It shows he has options,” Haddad said.

———

Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

———

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap . His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz .

Antichrist Meets with the Sunnis (Revelation 13)

UAE pushes for better ties with cleric Sadr amid efforts to contain Iran

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates signaled its desire to strengthen ties with Iraq during weekend talks with influential Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr as part of efforts by Sunni nations of the Middle East to halt Iran’s growing regional influence.

Sadr met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy commander of the UAE armed forces on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, according to a senior aide of the cleric.

Sadr also discussed ways of improving understanding between the Sunni and Shi’ite branches of Islam, at a meeting on Monday with a prominent Sunni cleric in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE is among Sunni nations which feel threatened by Iran’s increased power in the region, often projected through allied Shi’ite groups in Iraq and Lebanon.

“The two sides emphasized the importance to act in true Islamic spirit and reject violence and extremist thought,” Sadr’s office in Baghdad said in a statement on his website on Monday, reporting on his meeting with Emirati cleric Ahmed al-Kubaisi.

Closer ties with Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and southern Iraq, would help Sunni states loosen Tehran’s grip over Iraq’s Shi’ite community and contain its influence.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain severed relations with Qatar on June 5, accusing the major gas-exporting Gulf state of financing terrorism, meddling in the affairs of Arab countries and cozying up to their arch-rival Iran.

Sadr is one of few Iraqi Shi’ite leaders to keep some distance from Iran. In April, he became the first Iraqi Shi’ite leader to call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, marking his difference with Iran and Iranian-backed Iraqi militias backing the Syrian government.

“Experience has taught us to always call for what brings Arabs and Muslims together, and to reject the advocates of division,” the Abu Dhabi crown prince told Sadr, according to report on the Emirati state-run news agency WAM.

The Iraqi cleric’s trip to Abu Dhabi comes two weeks after a visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman..

Sadr’s office said his meeting with Mohammed bin Salman at the end of July resulted in an agreement to study possible investments in Shi’ite regions of southern Iraq.

The Saudis will consider the possibility of opening a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shi’ite city of Najaf, it said.

Sadr also announced a Saudi decision to donate $10 million to help Iraqis displaced by the war on Islamic State in Iraq, to be paid to the Iraqi government.

Baghdad and Riyadh had announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties, as part of an attempt to heal troubled relations between the Arab neighbors.

Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 following a 25-year break, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a rare visit to Baghdad in February.

Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Richard Balmforth

Antichrist Unifies With Sunni Horn (Revelation 13)

Iraqi Shia leader visits UAE, strengthening ties with Sunni states

Middle East Monitor

An influential Iraqi Shia cleric plans to visit the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, strengthening his ties with Sunni-ruled states of the Middle East.

It will be the second such trip in as many months for Muqtada al-Sadr, who commands a large following among Iraq’s urban poor. He visited Saudi Arabia at the end of July .

The Emirati government will send a special plane to fly Sadr to the UAE and return him to Iraq, according to a statement on the cleric’s website.

The cleric is one of few Iraqi Shia leaders to keep some distance from Shia Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival and the main backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In April, Sadr called on Assad to “take a historic heroic decision” and step down, to spare his country further bloodshed.

Sadr’s office said his meetings end July with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, resulted in an agreement to study possible investments in Shia regions of southern Iraq. The Saudis will also consider the possibility of opening a consulate in Iraq’s holy Shia city of Najaf, he said.

Sadr also announced a Saudi decision to donate $10 million to help Iraqis displaced by the war on Daesh in Iraq, to be paid to the Iraqi government.

Baghdad and Riyadh had announced in June they would set up a coordination council to upgrade ties, as part of an attempt to heal troubled relations between the Arab neighbors.

Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad in 2015 following a 25-year break, and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a rare visit to Baghdad in February.

The Antichrist Coddles up to the Saudis

Muqtada al-Sadr: Riyadh serves as regional ‘father figure’

Al Arabiya

 
Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of The Sadrist Movement in Iraq, stated that visions were aligned during his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah last month.

Al-Sadr said that Riyadh serves as a “father figure” in its efforts to bring peace to the region.

In an interview with the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper on August 11, 2017, al-Sadr said that the two parties discussed several files of concern to the region, including Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Jerusalem, Iran-Saudi relations, as well as Baghdad’s ties to Riyadh.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah last month. (Supplied)

He characterized the meeting as being transparent and honest. Al-Sadr pointed out that all the conflicts in the region can be solved gradually even if it took time, noting that this includes the status quo between the four countries Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, on the one hand, and Qatar, on the other.

He believes that Qatar showed reluctance to compromise, but will eventually come to its senses.

He also called for the stepping down of Assad, as the head of the regime in Syria, pointing out that when he is out of the picture, it would contribute to peace.

Last Update: Saturday, 12 August 2017 KSA 17:12 – GMT 14:12

The Antichrist Unites The Horns (Revelation 13)

A New Era Of Saudi-Shia Iraqi Relations

A recent meeting between Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Iraqi Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has sparked a fresh reproach to relations between the countries.

For a long time, Iraq’s majority Shia inhabitants were not on the best terms with their Saudi neighbors. Sectarian tension and the ongoing conflict in the region made relations rigid during Iraq’s post-Saddam era, and it seemed as if with Iraq’s majority Shia population juxtaposing a Sunni Saudi Arabia, future affairs between both nations would continue to be apprehensive. But a meeting between Iraq’s Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman on July 30th invalidated that notion, as it seems both countries are heading towards a closer and more amicable relationship.

A closer relationship between the two has indeed been growing in recent years, exemplified by ongoing meetings between public officials, including a 2017 visit by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abbadi. But what makes this recent visit more significant than the ones that came before it is the fact that al-Sadr is not himself an Iraqi official. Instead, he is a Shia cleric that holds significant political sway in the form of his Islamist nationalist “al-Sadr movement”, as well as his leadership of a prominent Shia militia group by the name of Saraya al-Salam (translated literally as Peace Companies). His reputation and following in Iraq has made him a significant figure in the country’s political arena and it comes as no surprise that the leader would find himself meeting with another nation’s dignitaries. In fact, Al-Sadr previously visited Saudi Arabia in 2006, albeit with less of an impact following his trip. Following the trip, Sadr has returned to Iraq intent on making a few new changes that will no doubt strengthen relations between Iraq’s Shia community and Saudi Arabia.

Al-Sadr after the meeting

When Muqtada came back to Iraq, one of the first things he did was call for the end of all Iranian backed Shia militias. Sadr spoke against the Hashed al-Shabbi, an organization that boasts 12,000 troops and is made up of militias backed up by Iran. Although this decision may stem from a want to hinder Iran from having an overwhelming influence on Iraq’s domestic affairs, the timing of the announcement was too coincidental to be independent of the Saudi Arabia visit. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi later rejected the proposal and its call to merge groups with the army, but the gesture behind the announcement is enough to warrant approval from Riyadh. Furthermore, in an explicit move to gain favor with the country, Sadr gave an order to remove all anti-Saudi material in Iraqi streets, including any images, posters, or banners with an anti-Saudi sentiment. This obvious move to gain favorability from Saudi Arabia signals a changing relationship between the neighbors. It seems that Sadr sides with Saudi Arabia in the regional cold war between the kingdom and Iran, and is more than willing to exert the influence he has to fortify relations between Baghdad (or rather Najaf) and Riyadh. Nevertheless, his will, Sadr’s meeting with Saudi Arabia and the subsequent measures he has taken since the visit marks a new and perhaps prosperous relationship between Shia Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, a country that seems to be evolving under its new crown prince, may indeed see itself in a gainful position if Iraq’s Shiites choose to embrace the country, and perhaps Sadr himself will gain from a stronger relationship with the desert kingdom. What is known in the present is that the two are growing closer and closer, and Iran must watch out for this new era of Iraqi- Saudi relations.

Antichrist Tries to Unify the Islamic Horns

Sadr visit to Riyadh news, Haider al-Abadi news, Bashar al-Assad news, Saudi Arabia news, Iran news, Iraq news, Middle East politics news, Iran influence in Iraq news, Saudi-Iran conflict news, Shia-Sunni quotas Iraq news, Iraq elections news

Can Muqtada Al-Sadr Defuse Tension Between Riyadh and Tehran?

© Thomas Koch

Seeing Iraq regain stability serves as a source of panic for some in the region.

Iraq’s influential Shia leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, paid an unexpected visit to Saudi Arabia on July 28 and 29, where he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and other senior officials. The meeting took place before the crown prince accedes to the throne, in order to draw up the coming relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Sadr’s rare visit raised concerns in some Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, which has refrained from commenting on the trip.

The charismatic cleric has recast himself as the upholder of Iraq’s democratic process and a bulwark against the sectarian rift between Sunnis and Shias. The visit comes at a time when tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are worsening. Would the visit of the Shia cleric, a member of an influential Shia family and son of the prominent Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, help defuse tension between Baghdad and Riyadh?

The timing of the visit is crucial to Iraqi politics. Sadr has returned as a leader in charge of uniting Iraqis under one umbrella, his office said. However, some Iraqi sources believe the visit to Saudi Arabia shows that Sadr has come on the Iraqi political scene to lead, not to linger in his Najaf office to receive followers.

The visit can be perceived as an attempt to consolidate his support and reap the fruits of his involvement in the coming parliamentary elections in April 2018, as Iraq would not have a government without him. Sadr is crucial for many Iraqi leaders as he heads a political bloc with almost 10% of parliamentary seats and has great influence on both Sunni and Shia Iraqis. His persistence to bring about change by bridging gaps between Iraqis is not welcomed by many in government, who are controlled by Iran.

The cleric and his followers are making deals in an attempt to enter positions in Iraq as mediator between Iraqis, Iranians and Saudis. Sadr is now delegated by Saudis to play a role in Iraq to serve Saudi interests and to return Iraq into its Arab fold by playing a role in bridging the differences and gaps between the three countries. That explains why he received $10 million from Saudi Arabia and the promises the kingdom has given him to build up the consulate in Najaf.

The question that arises is the following: Is Riyadh leaning toward Sadr, or is he leaning toward Riyadh at Tehran’s expense?

Sadr’s appearance as a powerful national leader could have some advantages, as seen by Saudi Arabia, because of his newly-minted nationalist stance that has made him a potential bulwark against Iranian influence. This became clear in his April 2017 statement against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, calling on him to step down. Right now there is tension between him and rival Shia factions, especially after his militias clashed with the Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi.

For its part, Saudi Arabia, which is concerned with Iran’s influence not only in Iraq but also across the greater Middle East, wanted someone like Sadr to step into the Iraqi field to draw up its relations externally and to organize domestic affairs. This started with the invitation from Prince Mohammad. Saudi Arabia, and mainly its crown prince, views Sadr as a man of the people who is a fervent Iraqi nationalist and federalist, upholding the democratic process by non-violent means. Sadr, who is an advocate of the quota system in parliamentary elections, believes this method can ensure that Iraq’s main ethno-religious constituents — Shias, Sunnis and Kurds — share power.

Some Iranian commentators and political analysts warn that Saudi Arabia is playing games by courting Sadr to influence Iraqi politics — especially after Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Riyadh in June — which could threaten Iranian interests in both Iraq and Syria. The Saudis called on the Iraqi prime minister by giving him a chance to either reconsider his policies toward Iran and bear the consequences that Iranian control of Iraq’s politics and its resources would carry, including the marginalization of Iraqi Sunnis, or to U-turn toward his Arab brethren in order to proceed with regaining stability in Iraq.

Shifting Alliances

Since the Saudis received no positive response from Abadi, they thought of other alternatives, Sadr being one. Some view the cleric’s visit as a concession from the Saudis to Iran, especially as a result of Qatar and the Islamic Republic growing closer at the expense of Riyadh’s influence amid the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) rift over Doha.

Sadr is known for shifting alliances in order to remain in a position of power and influence. He proved this in February 2016, when 100,000 of his followers demonstrated in the streets of Baghdad, calling for government reform and for building bridges with Sunni tribes and politicians. He is famous for shifting political positions in the past, including stopping militant activity against the United States, turning against the government in Baghdad and speaking out against Assad.

Among Iraqi politicians, reports circulate that Saudi Arabia is attempting to control Sadr. Some journalists suggest the kingdom will be monitoring what he does after returning to Iraq and what his plans would be in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary elections. Some argue that Sadr would serve as a stepping stone for Saudi Arabia into Iraq, where the cleric could help Riyadh put pressure on the Shia-led order in Baghdad to distance Iraq from Iran.

Officials have not, thus far, disclosed details surrounding Sadr’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. However, among those who are close to the cleric, there are suggestions that Sadr may have gone to the kingdom to seek financial help from Riyadh in preparation for Iraq’s elections in 2018.

Another important Shia cleric on whom Saudis pin high hopes is Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which was the largest party in the country’s Council of Representatives from 2003 until 2010. He is exiting his bloc to create the National Wisdom Party, an umbrella group of Shia and Sunni political parties — a new political movement in the country. This would be a reason for Sadr to set up his own front, benefiting from his close and strong ties with other Sunni leaders in Iraq and the GCC states.

Serious Dialogue

Sadr’s latest visit to Riyadh was the second since 2006, when he met with the then-Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. With Riyadh’s latest invitation, it turned out that Saudi leaders have resorted to dealing with Baghdad in order to either change the political scene in Iraq or to ask Sadr to use his connections and channels of dialogue with Iran to melt the ice between Riyadh and Tehran. Riyadh is seeking to have a stable Saudi Arabia without any external interference from Iran, and it also wants Iraq to be back to its Arab track, away from Iranian influence. Once the seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections are secured by Shia and Sunni moderates or those pro-Saudi Arabia, the war game with Iran will change in favor of Riyadh.

The Saudi government has also extended invitations to other Iraqi Shia leaders, who have not yet made a decision whether or not to visit Riyadh. Iraqi politicians close to these leaders believe that Mohammad bin Salman aims to improve his image among the Shias in the country by inviting the clerics from Iraq to mediate between him and Iran, as Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province is known for its dissent against the Saud rulers.

The invitation has come after Sadr’s April statement calling on Iran’s ally, President Assad, to step down to avoid further bloodshed in the Syrian conflict. Sadr has also avoided using any hostile rhetoric against Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-majority Arab states. In May, he urged Tehran and Riyadh to start a “serious dialogue to bridge their difference and gaps for regional stability.” He also called on the two to “care for their peoples — regardless of religion, sect or ethnicity — and engage in serious dialogue with a view to restoring regional peace and security.”

Regardless of the outcome of visit, the most important is that it came at a critical moment and would be an inspiration for further sectarian and ethnic conflict in Iraq after the defeat of Daesh (Islamic State) in Mosul. Once the war against terrorism is over in Iraq and Syria, it could pave the way for a potential war between sects in Iraq supported by regional powers, as some countries in the Middle East have started to gain power shortly after the demise of Iraq. Once issues of terrorism are resolved, this might mean that the Iraqis could return to wielding control over neighboring countries, politically and militarily. Seeing Iraq regain stability serves as a source of panic for some in the region.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Rapprochement between Riyadh and Baghdad Won’t Last

Rapprochement between Riyadh and Baghdad can only be a good thing

Mina Al Oraibi

August 6, 2017

2017 has been a year of surprising headlines. Perhaps none more so than that of the visit of Moqtada Al Sadr, the Iraqi Shia cleric and leader of the populist Sadrist movement, to Jeddah last week. Greeted by Thamer Al Sabhan, the Saudi minister for Arabian Gulf affairs, who was withdrawn from Riyadh’s embassy in Baghdad last year due to heightened tensions between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Mr Al Sadr went on to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Although no media statements were given at the time, the picture of the two of them together spoke a thousand words. It reflected the possibility of the formulation of a new alliance in the region, with an active Saudi foreign policy in Iraq.

After years of fraught and disjointed ties, Riyadh and Baghdad are finding ways to engage with one another. Ironically, Mr Al Sabhan was withdrawn from Iraq due to his open criticism of the Popular Mobilisation Units last October, and was seen last week greeting Mr Al Sadr, the most outspoken critic of the Iranian-backed, state-mandated armed groups. An emergence of an alliance between those who want to limit Iran’s military influence in Iraq and find a framework to escape the sectarianism that is plaguing the region could be one of the Middle East’s most surprising and stabilising developments.

Mr Al Sadr’s trip comes after historic visits by officials from the two sides – starting with Adel Al Jubeir’s historic visit to Baghdad and culminating in Haider Al Abadi’s visit to Riyadh last May.

It would, of course, be naive to think that these visits alone will be able to heal the deep divides between the two nations. Momentum has now been built and needs to be solidified, before it unravels. Only two years earlier, when Saudi Arabia named its first ambassador to Baghdad in a quarter of a century, similar hopes were raised, only to be quickly dashed. However, this time the outreach is happening at the highest levels of Saudi decision-making.

Mistrust remains between the two countries, in part due to a severing of diplomatic relations after Saddam Hussein’s disastrous invasion of Kuwait 27 years ago. Official diplomatic exchanges were cut and many of Iraq’s then-opposition didn’t maintain the ties they fostered with Saudi officials during their years of exile.

The Antichrist Unifies the Islamic Horns

Muqtada al-Sadr ‘bans anti-Saudi slogans from Iraqi streets’

Middle East Eye

Influential Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have given orders to his followers to remove all anti-Saudi images, slogans and banners from Iraq’s streets, according to claims in Iraqi media.

Anti-Saudi street banners and slogans have been raised after Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Eastern Province, was executed by Saudi Arabia in 2016.

The report came in the Baghdad Post earlier this week. The claims could not be independently verified by Middle East Eye.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government has been forcibly relocating residents of Nimr’s hometown of Awamiya as clashes continue between soldiers and militant groups in the old city. Awamiya has long been a flashpoint for protests by Saudi’s Shia minority and demonstrations and unrest have been frequent.

The Sadrist movement also announced in a statement on Tuesday that Sadr – a fierce Iraqi nationalist who has recently been highly critical of the influence of Saudi’s regional rival Iran in Iraq and neighbouring Syria – would adopt a new moderate religious discourse.

The moves came after Sadr met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday in a rare trip to the kingdom.

Little information has been publicly given about the reasons for the trip, which Sadr’s office described as his first in 11 years.

But Kurdistan 24 reported that Salman and Sadr discussed the future of Iraq and the impact of the 25 September Kurdistan independence referendum. Both reportedly stressed a need for a unified Iraq while acknowledging increasing tensions between Erbil and Baghdad.

According to the Baghdad Post, Sadr said Saudi Arabia had pledged to allocate $10m to help Iraqi refugees.

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq were severed after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and were only re-established in 2015.

Last month, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met King Salman in Saudi Arabia in a bid to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“The countries agreed to establish a coordination council to upgrade relations to the hoped-for strategic level and open new horizons for cooperation in different fields,” said the statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency.

It said the two countries had achieved a “quantum leap” in bilateral relations and stressed the importance of further official visits.