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Can’t We Get Along? Saudis Ask Iraq to Help Resolve Rivalry with Iran

© AP Photo / Ebrahim NorooziIranian security protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
Iranian security protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016 - Sputnik International
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The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has reportedly asked the prime minister of Iraq to help mend the rapidly declining relationship between the Saudis and their arch-rivals in Iran. Prince Mohammed bin Salman has asked Haider al-Abadi to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran to restore peace to the region.

Iraqi interior minister Qasim al-Araji visited Saudi Arabia in July, and then Tehran on Saturday. He reported that the Saudis asked his government to mediate between them and Iran, and the Iranian leadership looked upon the offer favorably.

"After the victories that Iraq has achieved, it [Saudi Arabia] began looking to Iraq, at its true size and leading role," said Iraqi interior minister Qasim al-Araji to Alghadeer on Sunday. "The calm and stability and the return of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have positive repercussions on the region as a whole."

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Al-Araji added that, as a gesture of goodwill, the Saudis have guaranteed the safety of Iranian pilgrims travelling to Jannat al-Baqi' cemetery, where the Islamic prophet Muhammad is buried. In 2015, stampedes led to the deaths of hundreds of pilgrims, a plurality of which were Iranian. "The Saudi side has made certain promises in this regard, and the doors to the cemetery are already open to Iranian pilgrims," al-Araji said.

Iran's own interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, was outwardly receptive to the idea. "Iran's policy is to have effective cooperation with regional states, and Tehran has never been the first to sever its relations with others," he said in a statement.

Iraq, once an avowed enemy of Iran, has grown closer to their fellow Shi'ite Islam nation in recent years. In 2016, Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari offered to mediate a dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia after protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran in retribution for the kingdom executing Shia religious leader Nimr al-Nimr on terrorist charges. The incident led to a suspension of diplomatic relations between the two powers.

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The Saudis and Iranians have sparred in recent years over a number of regional issues, from the civil war in Yemen to the political allegiance of the Qatari government.

Saad Jawad, a political science professor at the London School of Economics, told Al Jazeera that the Saudi request for Iraq to mediate was unusual. "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." He added that Kuwait and Oman, two states that have good relations with both the Saudis and the Iranians, would have made for better mediators.

Saudi Arabian leaders have not commented on al-Araji's words.

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