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Iraq and Saudi Arabia: Best Friends Forever?

The ice-cold relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia is showing some signs of thawing, according to this report by the Washington Post, which cited a series of developments:

  • Saudi Arabia will restore diplomatic relations to Baghdad for the first time since 2003;
  • Saudi officials last week welcomed a delegation of Iraqi lawmakers to its capital;
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave a long interview for a Saudi newspaper last week in which he called for a strengthening of the relationship between the two countries.

Will this friendship last? It’s difficult to tell. The Iraqi government has been a regional cipher in the years following Saddam’s ouster. But if the rapprochement is genuine and Iraq re-emerges as an Arab powerhouse, it will disrupt the power balance throughout the Middle East.

The biggest question now is Syria. Iraq and Saudi Arabia have hitherto been split over how to deal with Assad’s crackdown; the Saudis have aggressively condemned the violence, while the Shia government in Iraq has sided with Iran in support of Assad. But the Saudis—and Sunnis in general—do have cards to play, either by supporting the internal Sunni opposition to the Iraqi government or by promoting dialogue. That choice could dramatically change Middle Eastern politics for the foreseeable future.

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