Iraq Maintains Neutrality in Regional Conflicts

Iraq's stated neutrality toward regional events and noninterference in the Saudi-Iranian conflict beyond its borders does not please either party. The Saudi-Iranian conflict is clearly being played out in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and most recently Yemen. Thus, Abadi’s criticism of both countries’ roles in Iraq carries many implied messages. Most important, it indicates Baghdad's intention to remain neutral in regional conflicts.

Iraq has major crises to deal with — namely, fighting the Islamic State (IS) to recapture swathes of land seized by the extremist group — and therefore cannot afford to be drawn into other state's issues. Iraq has not been an official participant in the Syrian civil war or in Yemen's.

The Iraqi Shiite parties involved in the Syrian war do not represent the Iraqi state, but are working on behalf of Iran's interest. As a result, the neutrality asserted by successive Iraqi governments has not been a reality on the ground, with Iraqi relations with Iran somewhat unclear. Many in the media and in Arab capitals see the relationship as one of dependency on the part of Iraq.

The situation in Iraq requires delicacy and calm in terms of the country’s foreign relations and policies toward issues in the region. In the past few years, Iraq has had strained relations with Saudi Arabia, as Riyadh accused the governments of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of marginalizing Sunnis in Iraq while Iranian influence was expanding in the country.

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