Commentary

Saudi Offer to Broker Iraq Talks Gets Mixed Reviews

Middle East In Focus

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia recently offered to host a meeting of Iraqi leaders in an attempt to end the political stalemate produced by the March 7 parliamentary elections. While important regional actors have responded positively to the offer, most Iraqi political factions remain unconvinced.

In a statement released last Saturday, King Abdullah confirmed, “There will be no preconditions for this initiative either from Saudi Arabia or other countries. We don’t have any reservation on any person heading Iraq’s government. I invite His Excellency President Jalal Talabani ... and all parties that took part in the elections and the political process to your second country, Saudi Arabia, to Riyadh, after the blessed Haj season [for a meeting].”

The response from leaders of other countries and regional organizations has been overwhelmingly positive. A Kuwait Times article reports, “Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Dr. Mohamad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, in a statement, expressed Kuwait's support for this invitation ‘that depicts the responsible role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for bolstering security and stability of Iraq and the region.’”

The same article also cites the support of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) through a statement released by OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who in a statement affirmed “that this initiative was in line with the King’s keenness on maintaining the territorial sanctity of Iraq, supporting all Iraqi groups ‘and putting out the blazes of hateful sectarianism.’”

GCC Secretary General Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah, according to a Kuwait News Agency report, also supported the idea: “Saudi King Abdullah's call for the Iraqi leaders to meet in the Kingdom was an ‘important initiative’ and reflected Riyadh's leading in backing security and stability in the Arab and Islamic countries. The calls initiated by Saudi Arabia should have ‘urgent reaction’ from all Iraqi political forces, namely those which are worried about the current situation in Iraq that will not only affect the Iraqis but the Arab and Islamic arenas.”

Similar statements were issued by leaders of the UAE, Qatar and Lebanon.  Khaleej Times writes, “UAE Shaikh Abdullah urged all Iraqi political parties to respond to the Saudi King’s initiative to save Iraq from the long-running political crisis. ‘We appreciate the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the stability of Iraq and the region and do express our full support to it. We call on all Iraqi political parties to give the initiative their maximum interest for the good of the Iraqi people and the region.’” Gulf Times likewise confirms that “HE the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister (of Qatar) Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani yesterday welcomed the invitation extended by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.”

In Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he was “pleased to hear (Saudi) King Abdullah’s invitation to Iraq’s political leaders to resolve Iraqi problems under the umbrella of the Arab League. …We advise our brothers in Iraq not to miss this golden opportunity.”

For at least one commentator the move was a sign that the Saudis want to be a positive influence in the region. Writing in Asharq Alawsat, Tariq Alhomayed suggests, “The call issued by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to all Iraqi parties to meet in Riyadh, under the umbrella of the Arab League, is a good thing, not just for Iraq and the people of Iraq, but for the entire region. The importance of this call is that Saudi Arabia has approached Baghdad through the [official] door [i.e. in the right way].Therefore, this is a historic opportunity for Iraq and the entire region, and it is up to Iraqis of all [political and sectarian] inclinations to take advantage of this.

However, despite the positive reception of the offer from some segments of Iraqi society and political spectrum, most notably by the Iraqiya list led by Iyad Allawi, the former prime minister, the Saudi proposal was rejected almost immediately by both the Shiite based National Alliance and the Kurdistan Blocs. In a statement released on behalf of the Alliance and the Blocs, Shiite National Alliance legislator Hassan Al Sunaid expressed the view that the leaders were “confident the representatives of the Iraqi people are able... to reach a deal to form a national partnership government.” The statement further explained, “Iraqi leaders are working within the initiative of Kurdistan Region’s president, Massoud Barzani, towards the formation of a government of partnership and national concord, representing all trends of the Iraqi people.”

Aswat al-Iraq also writes that the leader of the Islamic Daawa Party and a member of the State of Law Coalition, Walid al-Hilly, expressed his opposition in no uncertain terms: “Our position is clear towards the Saudi initiative, which was not to attend the meeting (proposed in the initiative).” While their statements are vague on explicit reasons for turning down the offer, in interviews with reporters, both Shia and Kurdish politicians have made it clear that they distrust Saudi motives.

In an interview with The National, Mahmoud Othman, a leading Kurdish politician, “criticized the Saudi offer as ‘negatively’ affecting efforts to form a new Iraqi administration. ‘The invitation is not based on good motives. It's not about helping to form a government or to find solutions for Iraq. In fact, it will only complicate matters and might move us back to square one. Iraq's neighbors should not intervene in the political process at the moment. It is Iraq's business.’”

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