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Iraqis entitled to consider Saudi Arabia state sponsor of terror: PM Abadi

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says the nationals of his country have good reason to believe Saudi Arabia is a state sponsor of terror.

“Many Saudi nationals have carried out terrorist operations in Iraq, and every Iraqi citizen has a right to believe that Saudi Arabia is a supporter of terrorism,” he told Lebanon’s Al Mayadeen television channel.

Saudi Arabia’s official radical ideology of Wahhabism, which is known for its lack of tolerance, informs the mindset of Daesh and other terrorist groups worldwide. Daesh has been ravaging Iraq, and neighboring Syria, since 2014.

On March 8, Fox News cited a senior Iraqi counterterrorism intelligence officer as saying that around 30 percent of the Daesh terrorists in Iraq had been Saudi nationals, who had entered the country over the previous three years via Turkey or through the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal.

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Iraqi-Saudi ties

Elsewhere in the interview, Abadi said it was too early to think that relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia had warmed. The normalization of the ties, he said, was only in its embryonic stages.

In January 2016, Thamer al-Sabhan became the first Saudi ambassador to be assigned to Baghdad in a quarter of a century. The two countries had severed ties following former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

However, in August 2016, senior Iraqi officials requested Riyadh to replace Sabhan. He had on occasions received warnings from Iraqi officials for interference in the country’s internal affairs. Riyadh later withdrew the ambassador, but instead of naming another one, it named a chargé d’affaires at its diplomatic mission in the Iraqi capital, in what was regarded as a unilateral and quick downgrading of the bilateral diplomatic ties.

In February this year, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made a rare visit to Baghdad and met with Abadi, and the relations have been interpreted as being on the mend ever since.

A handout photo released by the Iraqi prime minister’s press office on February 25, 2017 shows Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) meeting with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Baghdad. (Via AFP)

Iran and Saudi Arabia

In the Al Mayadeen interview, Abadi also dismissed “the Saudi mentality that Iraq is under Iran’s control” as “flat wrong.”

He said the normalization of relations between Baghdad and Tehran — as well as with Kuwait and Jordan — was a “success” by the Iraqi government.

He said both Iran and Saudi Arabia were interested in calm being restored to the region and added that Iraq, looking at its own interests, was not interested in an escalation of tensions with Iran.

The Iraqi prime minister also said his country was ready to mediate between Riyadh and Tehran but had not been asked to do so yet.

Saudi Arabia unilaterally severed its diplomatic ties with Iran last January after protests outside its diplomatic premises in Tehran and Mashhad against Riyadh’s execution of eminent Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Relations between the two had already suffered due to mutual accusations of intervention in regional affairs and Iran’s strong opposition to Saudi Arabia’s invasion of impoverished Yemen.

The Saudi-led war on Yemen

Turning to the Saudi-led war on Yemen, Abadi said Riyadh had been convinced that it needed to end the war, which has killed more than 12,000 Yemeni people since it began in March 2015.

“It is likely that this will happen soon,” he said, referring to an end to the war.

A red line on Syria

“Some want Syria to disintegrate,” the Iraqi prime minister said, stressing that, “This is a red line.”

He asked Arab states to extinguish the flames of the war in Syria, saying the money that had been spent on regional conflicts “could have turned the Arab world into paradise.”

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are accused of funding and arming anti-Damascus militants, who have been waging deadly violence in Syria since 2011.

Turkish tensions

The Iraqi statesman also remarked on the ongoing Turkish military presence in Iraq and Syria in the name of fighting Daesh.

He accused the Turkish forces of being more focused on fighting Kurdish forces than battling Daesh. Turkey considers the Kurds to be associated with anti-Ankara militants and has been pushing them back away from its common border with Syria.

Turkey’s military presence in Iraq has had no authorization from the government in Baghdad and has been a major source of tensions between the two states.

Abadi once again called the Turkish military presence in his country “a violation of Iraq’s territorial integrity,” and especially denounced the Turkish presence in the town of Bashiqa near the northern city of Mosul. The Turkish troops entered the town last year, despite warnings from Baghdad.

Fighting at home

The Iraqi prime minister also said there were indications that Ibrahim al-Samarrai, the leader of Daesh, who is better known as Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, had fled Mosul, the Iraqi city, which Daesh has announced as its so-called headquarters in Iraq and which has been the target of a major Iraqi offensive to dislodge the terrorists.

Daesh has been largely forced out of the city in the Iraqi military operations.

The city’s western side and more than 50 percent of its eastern half had been fully liberated, Abadi said, adding there were now only pockets of terrorists in the city.

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