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Iraq hosts Mideast rivals for rare meeting in bid to ease regional tensions

Iraqi President Barham Salih, left, welcomes Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Baghdad's Presidential Palace, on August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iraqi President Barham Salih, left, welcomes Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Baghdad's Presidential Palace, on August 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

BAGHDAD — Arab heads of state and senior officials from the region, including archenemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, are holding a rare meeting at a conference hosted by Iraq. The meeting is aimed at easing Middle East tensions and underscores the Arab country’s new role as mediator.

French President Emmanuel Macron is also attending the Baghdad meeting, hailing it as a major boost for Iraq and its leadership.

The country had been largely shunned by Arab leaders for the past few decades because of security concerns amid back-to-back wars and internal unrest, its airport frequently attacked with rockets by insurgents.

Iraqi leaders were on hand today at Baghdad International Airport to receive the red carpet arrivals. They included Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

It is the first official visit to Iraq by the Qatari emir, whose country’s ties with Saudi Arabia are also fraught with tensions. Relations have improved recently since a declaration was signed with the kingdom and other Arab Gulf states to ease a years-long rift.

Also among the participants are the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rivalry over regional supremacy has often played out to deadly consequences in Iraq and other countries across the region, including Yemen and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia is represented by its foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and Iran with its foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

It is not immediately clear if the two ministers held a meeting on the sidelines. Asked whether they did, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hassan demurs, saying that numerous bilateral meetings took place, without specifying. One such meeting was between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and the Iranian foreign minister.

Iraqi special forces are being deployed in Baghdad, particularly around the Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government, where the meeting are being held.

Participants are expected to discuss a regional water crisis, the war in Yemen, and a severe economic and political crisis in Lebanon that has brought the country to the point of collapse.

Lebanon, which has been without a functional government for the past year, and Syria, which has been suspended from the Arab League since 2011, aren’t represented at the meeting.

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