November 28, 2018

MIDDLE EAST MUDDLE: How Saudi and Qatar are competing over Iraq.

A Qatari delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Nov. 7, where he met with the Iraqi president, prime minister and parliament speaker to “discuss the ties between the two countries.”

Three days after the Qatari delegation’s visit, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources of Saudi Arabia Khalid Al-Falih visited Baghdad and met with as many figures as did the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs. This happened in light of the tense relationship that has governed Saudi-Qatari ties since June 2017.

While in Baghdad, Falih met with Iran-backed leaders of the Popular Mobilization Units that Saudi Arabia categorizes as “lawless militias,” and he invited them to visit Doha. These meetings confirm that Doha is trying to compete with Riyadh and even sabotage its ties with Iraq by building a relationship with Saudi enemies in Iraq.

Given the polarization between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the region, each of them is trying to attain a rapprochement with Iraq. Meanwhile, as Iraq is trying to cut off energy imports from Iran due to US pressure after the reimposition of sanctions against Iran, both Riyadh and Doha could replace Tehran in this issue. This is also a chance to win over Baghdad’s new government.

Moreover, some Iraqi Sunni blocks that are funded and backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia are competing for the minister of defense position in new Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government. It is therefore likely that the two countries of the Gulf are also competing at this level.

Maybe Joe Biden was right about partition. Three governments with fewer factions to manage might do better than one impossibly corrupt government in an impossible situation.

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