A Stillborn Initiative
By Hiwa Osman - for ekurd.net
November 1, 2010
The Saudi king’s invitation to the Iraqi parties to
hold talks in Riyadh after Hajj raises numerous
questions and alarm bells for the Iraqi people about
their future. It also serves as a reminder of the
dangers and challenges that lie ahead for the new
On Saturday, 30 October 2010, as the various Iraqi
parties were preparing to meet in Erbil to settle
the political crisis and form a government, King
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited President Jalal
Talabani and other Iraqi leaders for talks in Riyadh
after Eid Al-Adha.
The irony here is that a country which has never
seen an election, does not allow for a Shia
presence, and does not have, or recognize, any
ethnic minorities is trying to fix the problems of a
new democracy with a Shia majority and a sizeable
Kurdish, Turkoman and Chaldo-Assyrian population.
Hiwa Osman, IWPR Iraq’s country director, previously
served as Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media
The manner in which the
invitation was drafted was a clear indication that
the Saudis do not have a clue about the new Iraq,
nor do they intend to solve the country’s problems.
The invitation mentions President Jalal Talabani by
name and “the rest of the parties that took part in
the election” -- as if the problem here is President
Talabani and the other parties, or is over the
presidential post, or is between Kurds and Arabs.
The reality is that the dispute is between the
Arabs. One day it is an internal conflict between
the Shia; another day it is between the Sunnis; and
at other times, it is between Shia and Sunnis.
Given their impartial position, the Kurds were
paving the way for a settlement of the dispute.
Many here in Iraq recognize that the Saudi
invitation was timed to spoil these attempts by
driving a deeper wedge between the Arabs and the
Kurds of Iraq while at the same time prolonging and
deepening the Sunni-Shia conflict.
By its very nature, Saudi Arabia is not fit to
either mediate in Iraq or even understand the
nuances of this complex and diverse country.
Their predominant position is an anti-Shia one.
During his entire time as prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki,
who is Shia, did not receive a single invitation to
visit Saudi Arabia. Given examples such as this,www.ekurd.nethow
can Saudi Arabia overnight become a mediator or an
arbitrator between the Shia and the Sunnis?
The Iraqi reactions to the initiative were a clear
demonstration of the limited credibility Saudi
enjoys. The Shia and the Kurds refused the
mediation, while the Sunnis welcomed it.
Every now and then, the people of Iraq hear of Saudi
preachers insulting Shia symbols, including the
revered Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, as well as
disparaging comments toward the Shia faith in Saudi
Arabia’s mosques and satellite TV channels. Most
Iraqis believe that ending these practices would be
a goodwill gesture before helping to form the
As opposed to dressing their initiatives with an
all-Iraqi solution to form the government, the
Saudis would have been much better off if they were
more open and truthful by solely expressing concerns
about the status of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They could
have also been more open in expressing their
concerns about the extent of Iran’s influence or
interference in Iraq.
The initiative also could have been better prepared.
As things stand, it seems that Saudi minimized
Iraqiya’s chances of positioning themselves well in
the next government. They instead managed to draw
the Kurds and the Shia closer to each other, while
further enhancing Iran’s role in Iraq.
If tomorrow Mahmoud Ahmadinajad makes a similar
invitation as the one extended by King Abullah (who,
it should be noted, has not even appointed an
ambassador to Iraq) surely many more people --
including Sunnis -- would attend the Tehran meeting
rather than one in Riyadh.
But Ahmadinajad would not interfere so blatantly,
because he seems to understand the new Iraq better
than the Saudis. The past seven months have proven
that any interference in negotiations over the
government formation will only further complicate
Iraq’s deeply polarized political environment.
When the people of Iraq went to the polls to vote
for their MPs, they did so with the understanding
that the Iraqis are the only ones who should form
the government, and that the only place where it can
be formed is Iraq. If Iraq veers from this
principle, the political blocs will be responsible –
and the citizens will be the ones to pay the price.
is IWPR’s country director in Iraq, previously served as
Iraqi president Jalal Talabani’s media adviser.
Copyright © 2010 ekurd.net
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