Iraq dispatched its foreign minister to Tehran on Wednesday with an offer to mediate in an escalating feud between Saudi Arabia and Iran, reflecting Baghdad’s fears that new sectarian conflict could unravel its campaign against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday has inflamed anger across the Middle East, infuriating Iran.
After demonstrators sacked the Saudi embassy in Iran, Riyadh and some of its allies cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran.
Iraq, where a Shiite-led government is urgently trying to reach out to minority Sunnis as it seeks to retake territory controlled by ISIS militants, is particularly vulnerable to any upsurge in anger between the Muslim sects.
Powerful Iran-backed Shiite militia called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi — a Shiite who has staked his credibility on efforts to reconcile with Sunnis — to shut a Saudi embassy that reopened only last month after decades of strained ties.
Abadi sent Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to Tehran to help defuse the crisis. Speaking with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif, Jaafari said the row could have “wide-ranging repercussions”.
“We have solid relations with the Islamic Republic (Iran) … and also we have relations with our Arab brothers and therefore we cannot stay silent in this crisis,” Jaafari told the joint press conference in Tehran.
There was no immediate reaction from Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi mediation offer.
In what militia leaders described as only an early taste of the potential for street anger, a few thousand Shiite demonstrators rallied in central Baghdad on Wednesday and in smaller numbers in southern Shiite cities.
Abadi took power in 2014 after Iraq’s army crumbled in the face of an onslaught by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, who swept through most of Iraq’s Sunni areas, capitalising on resentment to the Shi’ite-led authorities in Baghdad.
The prime minister initially relied on Tehran-backed Shiite militias to help defend the capital. But more recently he has challenged militia leaders with deep political reforms designed to curb the influence of sectarian political parties.
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