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Opinion: Abadi and Iran’s Agenda | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi speaks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, on April 16, 2015. (AFP Photo/Jim Watson)

US President Barack Obama’s administration was extremely polite and civil in its response to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, after he claimed that Washington was not in favor of Operation Decisive Storm and considered the Saudis to be uncooperative. This resulted in US National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey emerging to roundly deny Abadi’s characterization of the US position, confirming Washington’s support for Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis in Yemen. More than this, Baskey confirmed that the Obama administration is physically providing support for the operation, so how could Abadi’s comments be true?

This is how the US responded to the situation, without embarrassing its Iraqi ally or disrupting its prime minister’s visit to Washington. As for the practical translation of America’s response: Abadi’s claims were a complete lie and was nothing more than an attempt to promote a different position to Washington’s stated stance towards Operation Decisive Storm.

Did Mr. Abadi travel to Washington in order to further the interests of his own country or as an envoy from Iran with the objective of putting forward Tehran’s position on Yemen? What makes the prime minister of a country, which is thousands of kilometers from Yemen, come out to defend the position of the Houthi rebels and attack Saudi Arabia in this manner?

The Iraqi prime minister could have cooperated with Washington to put an end to the sectarian militias that are ravaging his country, fighting the terrorism of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on one hand but allowing the terrorism of the National Mobilization militia to spread on the other. He could have paid attention to the Syrian crisis and discussed its repercussions on neighboring Iraq, particularly as this is something that he is always complaining about, rather than searching for a lifeline for the Houthis in Yemen. He could have tried to convince Washington to provide Iraq with the fleet of F-16 fighter jets that it has already paid for, or meet Baghdad’s demand for Apache helicopters and unmanned drones. He could have done all this and more to ensure that his visit to Washington achieved its minimum objective, namely the prime minister seeking to secure the strategic interests of the Iraqi people. But the bitter truth, which was clear for all to see unfortunately, is that Mr. Abadi was more concerned with furthering the agenda of Iran and the Houthis in Washington, rather than looking out for the interests of his own people.

Last October, just weeks after taking office, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states sought to resolve their ties with Iraq, which had been distorted and corrupted by Abadi’s notorious predecessor ex-prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki. Indeed, it was Gulf political support that helped Abadi to take office in the first place. Following this, the Arab street was surprised by an attack from US Vice President Joe Biden who accused the UAE and Saudi Arabia of supporting ISIS, only to quickly apologize. At the time, Abadi lied in an interview with Iraq’s Alhurra TV commenting that “this is not a secret,” in comments about Biden’s spurious allegations. Despite Abadi’s comments and the threat this represented to Gulf-Iraqi relations, Gulf states did not stop short of friendly relations with Baghdad. Now, at a time when Riyadh is on track to return its ambassador to Baghdad and strength its relations with Iraq and open a new page in diplomatic relations, Mr. Abadi emerges with a new hostile position that does not demonstrate any real Iraqi desire to improve its relations with its Gulf neighbors. It is as if he is confirming, once again, that relations with Iran are holy to the point that Iraq is prepared to lose all its other relations to protect this.

If only Mr. Abadi focused on solving the never-ending problems in his country rather than putting on the Iranian turban. If only he focused on the sectarian unrest that is setting Iraq on fire, rather than completely ignoring this and not trying to quench this flame. If only he listened to the advice of the US to address the issue of tanks that are roaming free across Iraqi territory adorned with Iranian sectarian flags and banners with the consent of the Baghdad government. If only he was not so in tune with the voices from Tehran and promoting the same sectarian discourse. If only Mr. Abadi had kept the ball rolling with Iraq’s Gulf neighbors, rather than moving closer to severing these, just as Maliki did before him.