Iran welcomes Iraq’s mediation in region after reports of Saudi-Iran talks in Baghdad

By:Dilan Sirwan

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Iran’s ambassador to Iraq has welcomed Baghdad’s efforts to mend regional relations, days after reports of meetings taking place in the Iraqi capital between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“If Iraq can play any role in bringing Iran closer to the countries with which we have some challenges, or our relations have cooled or political cooperation with them has stopped; we will be happy,” Iraj Masjedi told Iranian state media IRNA on Tuesday.

Masjedi’s statement comes days after the Financial Times reported that the first round of Saudi Iranian talks took place in Baghdad in April, in a process facilitated by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The reported talks took place after PM Kadhimi visited Riyadh late March and met with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia took a notable dive in 2016, when Iranian protestors attacked the Saudi diplomatic missions following the Kingdom’s execution of Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has told the Iraqi government that if they can play a role, they will be active and make an effort,” Masjedi added. “We not only welcome, but also rejoice.”

In terms of results, Masjedi said that no clear results have been reached in practice when it comes to Iraq’s mediatory roles between Iran and countries in the region.

“Let’s wait for some work to be done and see practical results,” Masjedi added.

According to Financial Times, the Saudi delegation is led by intelligence chief Khalid bin Ali al-Humaidan, and another round of talks had been scheduled for the coming week.

The Iran-Saudi talks are happening as members of the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have been meeting in Vienna, with the United States participating indirectly, to find a way to bring the US back into the deal and Iran into full compliance.

“After days of intensive talks, it appears that we are now on the right track. But difficult way to go,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi tweeted on Saturday, adding that it is “too soon to predict the result.”

However, with negotiations ongoing between the two sides, Iran seems to be insistent against the presence of US troops in Iraq.

According to Masjedi, in Iran’s view, “the presence of US troops and bases not only in Iraq but also in the region as a whole is not in the interest of the nations of the region because the Americans are only trying to secure their own interests.”

He added that Iraqi forces are fully capable of providing security to the country, noting that Iran is ready to provide any necessary assistance to them.

On Monday, a top Iranian economic official and former ambassador to Iraq said that attacks on US bases would continue in Iraq.

“If Americans want to concentrate their troops in the Kurdistan Region and northern Iraq, they will be dealt with the same as any other part of Iraq, for Iraqi youth do not want foreign troops to be present in their country,” Hassan Danaeifar told the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

“Attacks on US military bases will continue,” he added.

Hours before the third round of strategic dialogue was held between Iraq and the US, Iran-backed  armed factions affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashd al-Shaabi in Arabic), threatened to direct “large and precise strikes” against American forces in Iraq if Baghdad and Washington do not announce a clear deadline for the withdrawal of US troops.

“The Coalition is in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government and respects the sovereignty of the government of Iraq,” Coalition spokesperson Colonel Wayne Marotto told Rudaw English on Sunday.

“Popular Mobilization Forces militias were established to support the Iraqi people’s fight against Daesh, but some have since devolved into outlaw militia groups,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State (ISIS).