I had the opportunity to discuss this issue in a TV debate last week, with guests from the UAE, the US and Iraq. In general the debate was positive and optimistic about a new and fruitful era in relations between our countries, but our Iraqi colleague had a few skeptical questions that deserve answers.
The first was whether it was the intention of Saudi Arabia and the GCC to pit different sections of Iraqi society against each other. The answer to that, simply, is no. Saudi Arabia’s aim is stability in Iraq, which is reflected in the difference between Saudi policy and Iranian policy.
Daesh and sectarian militias emerged in Iraq because of instability and poor governance, for which leaders in Iraq and Iran both bear responsibility. Saudi policy, on the other hand, is based on the bonds of history, geography and family, rather than fomenting sectarian strife.
Another skeptical question was whether Saudi Arabia sought to use its rapprochement with Iraq as a stick with which to beat Iran, and to conscript Baghdad as an ally against Tehran. The simple answer, again, is no. Saudi Arabia, as the leader of the Arab Islamic coalition, does not seek conflict anywhere. Our policy is defensive, to protect our region from war and sectarian strife.
What Saudi Arabia seeks is sustainable development and a diversified economy, with revenue from sources other than oil. Vision 2030 is for a prosperous and fruitful future, which cannot be achieved without stability, so stability is our aim for Saudi Arabia, our neighbors and our region.
Some skeptical Iraqis have questions about the rapprochement with the Gulf states, which deserve answers. So here they are.
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri
Some ask, why did Saudi Arabia not adopt this policy before? The answer is, we did. The late King Abdullah invited the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to Saudi Arabia in 2008 and offered the hand of real and honest friendship to overcome the perils threatening Iraq. Al-Maliki returned to Baghdad and resumed the policy that Iraq’s ally was Iran, and only Iran.
Some Iraqis try to find excuses and justifications for their “special relationship” with Iran and rejection of their Arab brothers, and try to pretend that it has no sectarian dimension. Iran supported the opposition to Iraq’s dictator, they say, when Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states did not.
They forget the Saudi policy of not intervening in the internal affairs of other countries. In 1982, for example, on the orders of the Syrian President Hafez Assad, Bashar’s father, up to 40,000 people were massacred in Hama. Most were Sunni Muslims, but Saudi Arabia did not intervene because of that policy.
Intelligent Iraqis who make a comparison between Saudi Arabia and Iran can come to only one conclusion: friendship with the former is a thousand times better than with the latter. Saudi Arabia does not suffer from the greed of Iran, not its determination to export revolution. It is in Iraq’s interests not to be a weak follower of Iran, or a bridge to its sectarian militias.
Iraq has the opportunity to be a thriving state with a wealth of resources in its people and its soil. It should learn from its past and think to its future.
• Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri is a political analyst and international relations scholar. Twitter: @DrHamsheri