Iraqi President Barham Salih insisted his country would not serve as a venue for a regional fight while speaking at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Wednesday, presumably addressing regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“We have had enough wars,” the President said at UNGA in New York through a translator, adding:
We don’t want our country to be part of any regional or international conflict. Nor do we want our country to be used to settle regional and international scores. Our people have paid a high price by wars and conflict, and Iraq will not be a part of any more wars by one group against the other.
“Iraq will not be a launching pad for aggression for any or our neighboring countries,” he also said.
Iraq borders Shiite-majority Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Salih met with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier in the day during the UNGA, the White House noted on Tuesday.
The two leaders discussed “ways to enhance an already robust partnership on issues such as security, trade, and energy, as well as President Trump’s strong support for a continued fight against ISIS [Islamic State],” the White House wrote on Twitter:
President @realDonaldTrump met with President @BarhamSalih of the Republic of Iraq to discuss ways to enhance an already robust partnership on issues such as security, trade, and energy, as well as President Trump’s strong support for a continued fight against ISIS. pic.twitter.com/p3MCalXP1C
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 24, 2019
Salih said U.S. and local forces demolished ISIS’ territorial caliphate. Nevertheless, America’s fight against the group continues.
Until recently, relations between Iran and Iraq rendered Baghdad one of Saudi Arabia’s primary foes. The two former enemies — Iraq and Saudi Arabia — however, are reportedly preparing to start engaging in several economic endeavors. Salih highlighted the thaw in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iraq in recent years. Several Iraqi leaders, including Salih, visited the Sunni Kingdom in recent years, marking a policy change to sever Iran’s strong influence in Iraq.
Iraq’s president has acknowledged the policy of change that is pulling Baghdad away from Tehran. Iran still holds strong political and military influence in Iraq.
“The security of the [Iraq — Middle East] region is contingent upon a good neighbor relationship between Iraq and its surrounding countries,” Salih said.
Our relationship is strengthened by our Arab and Gulf depth, and we insist on [improving] these relationships and developing them as an important part of our stability and security. We also care about our relationship with our neighbor Iran [with whom] we enjoy ties of cultural and religious connections as well as different interests.
And we also care about our neighbor to the north Turkey and we are exerting efforts on raising levels of our bilateral relations with all our neighbors.
There is animosity between Turkey and the Saudis, but they benefit from a robust economic relationship.
Currently, Iran is facing economic pressure from the United States in the form of crippling sanctions. This month, after the massive attack, Saudi Arabia joined the relatively small U.S.-led naval coalition to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf region from a desperate Iran. The only other alliance partners so far are the United Kingdom, Australia, and Bahrain. Iran has attacked oil tankers in the region in May and June.
Iran is increasingly facing financial woes after the U.S. pulled out of the controversial 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and Washington-led world powers last year. U.S. President Trump reimposed sanctions slapped as part of a wave of unprecedented restrictions crippling the Iranian economy.
Since Trump pulled America out of the Iran pact last year, there have been multiple attacks against oil tankers navigating in the sea near Iran. The U.S. blames Iran, but Tehran denies the accusations
Yemen’s Iranian-allied Shiite Houthi rebels have also claimed responsibility for various attacks on Saudi Arabia, including the recent one targeting the oil facility. Initially, there was speculation that Iranian allies may have carried out the latest attacks from Iraqi soil, but the United States has cleared Iraq, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. also dismissed Houthi allegations that they carried out the devastating attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
A willing Iraq could potentially help the United States and Saudi Arabia counter Iran’s expansion in the region.