In Saudi Arabia, Rex Tillerson looks to claw back US influence in Iraq

Rex Tillerson to visit Saudi Arabia today
Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters
Rex Tillerson to visit Saudi Arabia today
Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will join Saudi King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Riyadh today for the inaugural meeting of the Saudi-Iraqi Coordinating Council.

The council is part of a broader strategy by Mr Abadi to stave off Iran’s influence in the country by encouraging a national Arab identity.

Saudi Arabia began clawing back influence in Iraq back in February with the arrival of its top diplomat in Baghdad– the first trip its kind in 27 years–to open the Arar border crossing. Since then Riyadh has hosted visits from influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Prime Minister Abadi.

Mr Abadi has proven more resistant to Iranian influence than his predecessor and has the support of Iraq’s Shia Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, in trying to wrestle back control from Iran. He faces an uphill battle though, as militia leaders loyal to Iran shift into new political groups with designs on contesting the 2018 parliamentary elections.

Expect the US to continue cajoling Saudi-Iraq ties, while promoting unity with secular and Shia factions as they look to strengthen Mr Abadi’s position ahead of next year’s election.

Delve deeper: Iran: Back in the Game

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