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Iraq hosts Middle East rivals for rare reunion aimed at easing regional tensions

BAGHDAD – Arab heads of state and senior officials in the region, including sworn enemies Iran and Saudi Arabia, hold a rare meeting at a conference hosted by Iraq. The meeting aims to ease tensions in the Middle East and underlines the new role of mediator of the Arab country.

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

The country had been largely shunned by Arab rulers in recent decades due to security concerns amid back-to-back wars and internal unrest, with its airport frequently being rocket attacked by insurgents.

Iraqi leaders were on hand today at Baghdad International Airport to receive red carpet arrivals. Among them were Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan and Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

This is the first official visit to Iraq by the Qatari Emir, whose ties with Saudi Arabia are also strained. Relations have improved recently since a declaration was signed with the kingdom and other Arab Gulf states to quell a multi-year rift.

Participants also include the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rivalry for regional supremacy has often had deadly consequences in Iraq and other countries in the region, including Yemen and Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia is represented by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, and Iran by its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

It is not immediately known whether the two ministers held a meeting on the sidelines. Asked if they have done so, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hassan opposes it, saying that many bilateral meetings have taken place, without specifying it. One of these meetings took place between Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, and the Iranian foreign minister.

Iraqi special forces are deployed in Baghdad, especially around the green zone, seat of the Iraqi government, where the meeting is 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 driven the country to the point of collapse.

Lebanon, which has not had a functioning government for a year, and Syria, which has been suspended from the Arab League since 2011, are not represented at the meeting.


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