US "concerned" that Saudi-Iran rift may damage "Syria peace talks"

Jan 06, 2016

Following the recent severing of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia over the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh al-Nimr by Riyadh and the torching of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, some in the Iraqi government fear it will exacerbate Sunni-Shiite tensions at a critical juncture.

This comes as Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq have spearheaded fragile cooperative efforts to tackle the threat posed by the Islamic State (ISIS). Now the fear is that such cooperation could be compromised as a result of the recent tensions and war of words between Riyadh and Tehran.

For sure, the rise in sectarian tensions creates a fertile environment for the growth of ISIS. “All of this helps ISIS in building its fighting forces and getting support,” argued the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadis' spokesman Saad al-Hadithi.

However Sunni politician and former finance minister, Rafi al-Issawi, quoted by The New York Times claims the contrary. "The problem between Iran and Saudi will not affect us. We have given tens of martyrs not for Iran or Saudi, but for our country, for the city of Ramadi. Let us liberate our country from ISIS, better than Saudi and Iran."

Prime Minister Abadi has a delicate balancing act to play in the war against ISIS since he wants the continued support of both Tehran and Washington who do not coordinate their operations against that terrorist group. To date he seems to have found the middle ground which will allow him to receive the continued support of both these rival powers

The United States is seeking to prevent the diplomatic crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia from escalating any further that may affect the planned Syria peace talks.

According to the White House spokesperson John Kirby the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to urge Riyadh and Tehran (by phoning the foreign ministers from both countries) to work together to push for a peace deal in Syria, a country where both these rival regional powers are backing opposing sides in that complex war.

"One of the key things on his [Kerry's] mind is [to] de-escalate the tensions, restore some sense of calm, encourage dialogue and engagement between these countries, but also to make the point there are other pressing issues in the region," Kirby explained.

From Rudaw (Kurdistan), published Wednesday January 6, 2016

Photo: Some of Tehran's proxy Shiite militias who now effectively run Iraq (with help from US air support) parade through Baghdad, June 2014