We were all amazed on Saturday by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz’s initiative, calling for an Iraqi summit in Riyadh, comprising all Iraqi political and party leaders. It was a surprise for more than one reason: most notably, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia previously refused to deal with the Iraqi governance issue, and for many years refrained from interfering in the Iraqi debate. All of a sudden, however, the kingdom yesterday announced the most significant step yet [regarding the formation of the Iraqi government], by inviting all Iraqi leaders to an Iraqi conference, under the auspices of the Arab League. Practically speaking, this measure is considered to be the biggest political step in the interests of Iraq in seven years, and with it Riyadh has switched from completely avoiding the issue, to putting forth a decisive project for the future of Iraq.
It is natural that some people wish to abort such an initiative, believing that it is designed to shape the future presidencies [in Iraq]. Others may also attempt to sabotage the initiative, believing that their chances of securing the Iraqi presidency are very low, and thus they would rather not hold a conference to settle the unresolved situation in Iraq, on the grounds that the current state of constitutional vacuum is more beneficial for them. But the significance of the fact that King Abdullah has entered into the Iraqi debate means that matters in Iraq have reached an extremely sensitive stage, and may be highly volatile. Even if any leader or party achieved the quorum necessary for assuming the Prime Minister position, Iraqi and Arab spheres would still contest this, and this would detract from the legitimacy of the new Iraqi leadership. In any case, and even if political powers unanimously agreed upon a specific figure as Prime Minister, Saudi Arabia cannot revoke a name or a party, or impose its own. All it can do is recognise the full legitimacy of the winner, as was the case with the Taif conference to resolve the issue in Lebanon.
The upcoming Prime Minister, whether al-Maliki or otherwise, will need to rule the country in a pro-Arab atmosphere, unlike the past presidential term that consisted of numerous political problems, doubts and a boycott by Arab countries. The Saudi conference will not decide who should rule Iraq, but will grant Arab legitimacy to whoever the Iraqi people chose as their ruler, under the banner of the Arab League. Practically speaking, Saudi Arabia is providing the Iraqi regime with what it has previously failed to acquire; that is full recognition and political sponsorship.
The assumption that the results have been predetermined, even before the Iraqis meet in Riyadh to decide upon the three Prime Ministerial candidates, is plainly wrong. Perhaps, party leaders will come to an agreement before they leave Baghdad for the Riyadh conference, and hence the role of the conference will be to crown the Iraqi people’s choice, with Arab endorsement, and celebrate a new stage in Iraqi history. But if Iraqi party leaders arrive in Riyadh amidst continuing arguments, they will act as the Lebanese did in Taif some twenty years ago, and the summit will resemble another ‘Taif’, whereby everyone negotiates with each other until they reach an agreement. Lebanon’s crisis at that time cannot be compared with Iraq’s present-day problems, for they are different. Whilst Iraqi politicians agree completely on the political system and its framework, they have failed to agree upon who should adopt the positions of governance.
Saudi Arabia will not dictate to the Iraqis who they should chose, and of course the Iraqis themselves would not accept this. Saudi Arabia would not reject al-Maliki as the Prime Minister, if the Iraqis were unanimously agreed, nor will it dictate to the Iraqis a certain name if they fail to choose one themselves. The kingdom cannot intervene in the course of discussion, as was the case in Taif, and the dialogue will only take place between the Iraqis. The Arab League will be present as an organizer, and Saudi Arabia as a sponsor, and we believe that it will be an opportunity for everyone [to reach an agreement], whether they agree or disagree with Saudi Arabia.