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Zarif’s visit to Baghdad foreshadows Iraqi PM’s trips to Iran and Saudi Arabia

Jul 20, 2020

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Iraq Sunday and met with the country’s top officials, including the prime minister, president and foreign minister. Zarif’s one day trip took place just before Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was scheduled to visit Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia, then Iran and later the United States, though the Saudi visit appears to have been delayed due to the king’s health issues.

This was Zarif’s first trip to Iraq since the assassination of former Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport along with Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Upon landing at Baghdad airport, Zarif’s first stop was a visit to a mural of Soleimani and Muhandis marking the spot where the two were killed.

Iraq is in a difficult position, torn between its relations with Tehran and the need for an economic lifeline through regional countries and sanctions waivers offered by the United States. One role, according to Iranian media, that Iraq and its new Prime Minister Kadhimi can play is that of mediator between Tehran and Riyadh.

According to an opinion piece by Iranian newspaper Arman Meli, given the passing of Oman’s Qaboos bin Said Al Said and the illness of Kuwait’s emir, Kadhimi is now determined to take their place given his good relationship with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iranian officials. Pulling off the mediator role between these two regional rivals can elevate Iraq’s and Kadhimi’s position not just regionally but also internationally, according to the article.

A leader within Iraq’s Fatah coalition reportedly claimed that Zarif has sent a message through Kadhimi that Iran is ready to resume previous “agreements with [Arab] countries in the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia, with Iraq as intermediary.”

Khorasan newspaper also predicted that Kadhimi will seek to play the role of the mediator between Tehran and Riyadh and continue the attempts by previous Iraqi leaders. “No prime minister will easily pass on such an opportunity to gain prestige for his country,” said the newspaper, adding that economic relations between the two oil-producing countries were another matter likely discussed between the two sides. According to Khorasan, Iran is seeking around $5 billion from Iraq for previous deals, though this figure has not been reported anywhere else.

Khorasan also wrote that Iran will be pursuing with Kadhimi the case of Soleimani’s assassination and the withdrawal of US troops. Iran wants charges brought up against the United States and international pressure applied for the assassination, but the article noted that Kadhimi has already taken steps against some Iranian-backed groups and hinted that Kadhimi may not want involvement in such political maneuvering, particularly against the United States.

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