RFL/RE – An Iraqi leader has said his country will take the role as mediator between rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, media in Iraq and Iran are reporting.
Iraqi Interior Minister Qasim al-Arraji on August 13 said Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had requested Iraq get involved to help ease tensions between Riyadh and Tehran, according to Iran’s semiofficial ISNA news agency and Iraqi satellite channel Alghadeer.
“The calm and stability and the return of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have positive repercussions on the region as a whole,” Arraji was quoted saying after visiting Tehran on August 12.
Arraji’s Iranian counterpart, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, said Tehran has always sought cordial relations with Saudi Arabia.
“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.
The Saudis have not officially commented on the reports.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran have long struggled for influence in the Middle East.
The Saudis broke formal relations with Iran in January 2016 after an Iranian mob stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in protest against the executions in Saudi Arabia of 47 people, including a prominent Shi’ite cleric.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani criticized the embassy attack and said he would compensate the Saudis for damages, but Riyadh refused the offer at the time.
Rohani has reached out to Riyadh again since he was reelected in May in an attempt to bolster relations.
Tensions increased again recently after a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states broke relations with Qatar, accusing the small Arab nation of financing terrorism and for having too close ties with Iran.
Qatar, which — like Saudi Arabia — is a U.S. ally, has denied the allegations.
The Saudis and Iranians also back opposing sides in civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
In addition, Iran boycotted the 2016 hajj pilgrimage after a stampede the previous year killed at least 2,426 pilgrims, including 464 Iranians.
Iran says its citizens will be able to take part in this year’s pilgrimage and said its officials will be sent to Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina to provide consular services to Iranian pilgrims during the September hajj.
Iraq has a slight Shi’ite majority but has a large Sunni population as well, and its government has close ties to Iran.