A summit organised by Iraq brought together regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran on Saturday as part of a broader effort by Iraqi leaders to fashion the country’s image as a friend among neighbours.
Scarred by more than three decades of war, Iraq is recasting itself as a mediator among neighbours who are often at odds over weighty issues, including the civil war in Syria and US sanctions against Iran.
The summit, hosted by Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, brought together top legislators of Iraq’s six neighbours: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait.
“Today, Iraq is building a promising strategic partnership with all neighbouring countries without any reservations or favouring any party,” said al-Halbousi.
The regional meeting follows months of high-profile diplomacy that has involved Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and President Barham Salih to engage with the neighbours.
“The stability of Iraq is necessary in the stability of the region and contributes its return with all its political and economic weight and creative human resources to its Arab and regional environment,” a final declaration said.
It emphasised “the importance of supporting moderation and combating extremism in all its forms, especially as it is the people of the region who pay the price of extremism”.
Abdul Mahdi made visits in quick succession to Iran and Saudi Arabia earlier this year, emphasising that Iraq would not favour one or the other in the rivalry between them.
Instead, Iraq is looking to expand trade with both as it looks to rebuild itself, 16 years after the 2003 US invasion plunged the country into civil war. The country is seeking billions of dollars in aid and investment – particularly in energy and electricity – for reconstruction.
Iraq is also spearheading a regional initiative to bring Syria – which was suspended in 2011 – back into the Arab League, with President Bashar al-Assad surviving a 2011 uprising against his rule.
While Iraq remains a close ally of the US in the Middle East, Iraqi leaders have made clear they will not be constrained by US policy objectives to isolate Iran and Syria.
“Iraq is coming back to the neighbourhood,” President Salih told The Associated Press last month.