Lebanese PM’s Iraq Visit Canceled: Saudi Meddling Is Not Hard to See Here

Lebanese PM’s Iraq Visit Canceled: Saudi Meddling Is Not Hard to See Here

In the past few weeks Iraq was a destination for many diplomatic visits in a show of high importance and position of the country in the regional developments. Competition among regional and international countries to build influence in Iraq is a brazen reality in the country’s developments, with some actors targeting its national interests.

Ahlulbayt News Agency: In the past few weeks Iraq was a destination for many diplomatic visits in a show of high importance and position of the country in the regional developments. Competition among regional and international countries to build influence in Iraq is a brazen reality in the country’s developments, with some actors targeting its national interests. 

Saudi Arabia is one of those actors, whose push for closeness to Iraq and exerting influence there and also its relations with Baghdad, is turning contentious among the Iraqi groups. Many raise concerns via referring to the destructive role of the Saudis in the past Iraqi developments in the form of support for terrorism and instability. They argue that Riyadh abuses the economic ties to foist its agenda on the partner countries, and today opening the route for the Saudis to get a toehold in Iraq under the excuse of their help to Iraqi economic improvement practically puts at stake the Iraqi national interests and independence. 

On Saturday, media reported cancelation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab to Iraq. Sources familiar with the trip agenda said the main theme of the visit was economic cooperation between the two countries and the cancelation comes 10 days after Baghdad and Beirut made an initial agreement according to which Iraq would supply Lebanon with oil in an apparent removal of walls of blockade on the small country. 

According to the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, the cancellation was at the request of the Iraqi side for "internal reasons" but in reality, the main factor in making this decision is the external pressures on PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi government. There are footprints of the sides hampering government formation in Lebanon, the prominent newspaper reported. Saudi Arabia and its ally March 14 Alliance led by Saad Hariri are the main obstructers of the new Lebanon government formation over the past year, finding Diab's visit a threat to their foul play and plans in Lebanon. 

In recent months, the Saudis have repeatedly stressed the need for Hezbollah not to participate in the future Lebanese government, which means an explicit action to sterilize all initiatives to end the political crisis in Lebanon after the huge blast of August last year that literally destroyed the whole port of Beirut which represented a considerable size of the capital. Meanwhile, Riyadh and Hariri see the road to advancing their goals going through foiling the caretaker government's struggle to improve the Lebanon's dire economic conditions and the escalation of the economic crisis, mainly to persuade the public that the sole way to save the country is to form a government on Hariri's terms. 

A Lebanese delegation headed by Diab, and accompanied by the ministers of agriculture, industry, health, tourism, and energy, was to travel to Iraq to sign a preliminary agreement for Iraq to export 500,000 tons of oil in exchange for Lebanese health and medical services. The amount was to increase to 2 million tons later under a final agreement. 

The delegation could use its trip to explore opportunities for cooperation in other areas with the Iraqi side and to expand the agreement dimensions. This is one of the alternatives and even the main option for expanding the Lebanese network of diplomatic and trade relations, resolving part of the power crisis and reducing the dollar shortage amid liquidity crisis. 

Certainly the recent agreement between the two countries would bring mutual benefits to both countries immersed in crisis. Oil-rich Iraq, which has seen an increase in cases of Covid-19 disease in recent weeks, is suffering from a chronic shortage of medicine and medical care, and decades of war, insecurity, and poor investment have left its hospitals in a state of disarray. Lebanon, meanwhile, was once dubbed the "hospital of the Arab world," with its private healthcare facilities advanced and its doctors trained in Europe and the US. But hundreds of doctors are now fleeing the country's political and economic crisis, and even basic medicines are not available. 

Power outage has been common in Lebanon but Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar in March warned that if cash is not provided to buy fuel for the power plants, the country "will enter total darkness by the end of this month." 

Apparent enough, canceling Baghdad visit will more than anybody else play into the hands of Hariri and the Saudis and go against the Lebanese and Iraqi national interests. 

More than any other country, Iraqis have suffered from instability in the region, and the interwovenness of the security order especially in the fight against terrorism and the Saudi-sponsored takfirism and Wahhabism has been proven to Iraq which experienced the grave emergence of ISIS. Iraq has lost billions of dollars as a result of instability in the region and continues to view the Syrian crisis as a source of threat to its territory. Meanwhile, Lebanon's economic problems are having an undeniable impact on the Syrian situation. 

The Syrian national currency lira lost roughly half of its value from November 2019 to January 2020, mostly because of emergence of Lebanese financial crisis and the US Caesar Act sanctions that target the Syrian financial lifelines and any entity dealing with legitimate Syrian government. 

Lebanon is a trade and finance hub for Syria as it is a big market for the Syrian exports. Many Syrians have deposits in the Lebanese banks. When the Lebanese banks imposed limits on cash—mainly hard currency— withdrawal and the Lebanese lira slumped, these deposits began to shrink in value. 

The sudden money squeeze from Lebanon cut off an important financial artery to Syria, which was made even worse by the news of Washington imposing new sanctions on Syria. The economic crisis in Syria, in turn, delays possibility of crisis end and facilitation of return of refugees, part of whom are in Iraq. This will keep a shadow of instability on Syria, making foreign agenda to reorganize ISIS in Iraq through deploying terrorists from Syria to Iraq in a state of insecurity and disorder more implementatable. 

To conclude, while the Saudi economic support and aid promises do not transcend words, Riyadh’s destructive interventions in the Iraqi internal affairs and setting conditions for Baghdad are on the increase, something boosting the views of al-Kadhimi critics as the country heads to early elections in October.

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