Iraqi Prime Minister to travel to Saudi Arabia, Iran in diplomatic balancing act

Iraqi Prime Minister to travel to Saudi Arabia, Iran in diplomatic balancing act
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will travel to Saudi Arabia and Iran next week in a trip carefully calculated to balance Iraq’s ties to the two regional rivals.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Kadhimi will visit both Iran and Saudi Arabia [Getty]

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will travel to Saudi Arabia and Iran back-to-back next week, carefully balancing ties to regional rivals in his first foreign trip as premier, officials said on Saturday.

Baghdad has often found itself caught in the tug-of-war between Riyadh, Tehran and even Washington, which the premier is also set to visit within the next few weeks.

On Sunday, Kadhimi will host Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad, before travelling with Iraq's ministers of oil, electricity, planning and finance to Saudi Arabia the following day, Iraqi officials said.

They are set to stay in NEOM, an area in the kingdom's northwest that is currently under controversial development, and are scheduled to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Kadhimi is known to have warm personal ties.

Baghdad proposed a package of energy-focused development opportunities in Iraq to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, and the talks will likely focus on financing for those proposals, other infrastructure projects, and a reopening of the Arar border crossing between the two countries, the officials said.

Read more: Iraq – Caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran

They said the delegation will then travel directly to Tehran late Tuesday, where Kadhimi is expected to meet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Kadhimi rose to the premiership in May after serving as the head of Iraq's National Intelligence Service for nearly four years, which helped him form a close relationship with Prince Mohammed.

He is also known to be respected by Iran's intelligence services and government circles, which prompted speculation he could mediate between the two regional foes.

Kadhimi is also well-liked in Washington, where he is expected later this month or in early August to pursue a strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US.

It would be the first visit by an Iraqi premier to the White House in three years. US officials never extended an invitation to previous prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whom they saw as too close to Iran.

Tensions skyrocketed following a US drone strike on Baghdad in January that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

It appears Washington is now encouraging a rapprochement between Baghdad and Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this week, officials from Iraq, the US and the Gulf Cooperation Council discussed over teleconference an arrangement for Iraq to import electricity from Kuwait, a deal which was agreed to last year but has yet to come into effect.

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