Iran and Saudi Arabia in secret talks to replace Maliki

The Times reports: Iran is sending officials to Saudi Arabia for secret talks about replacing Iraq’s embattled prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, with a compromise candidate who might broker a political solution to the deepening crisis there.

The move towards co-operation by the two regional enemies reflects growing alarm at the situation in Iraq, where lightning gains by the al-Qaeda splinter group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis) threaten both countries. Saudi Arabia deployed 30,000 extra troops along its border with Iraq yesterday after Baghdad pulled its forces out of the area, leaving the world’s largest oil producer to defend its frontier alone.

The move by Iran’s President Rouhani to solicit Saudi backing for a compromise candidate is a remarkable step, given the enmity between the two powers, but reflects the desperation in both capitals. With Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish government taking steps towards declaring full independence, it falls to Tehran and Riyadh to break the political deadlock in Baghdad.

Iran has been Mr al-Maliki’s principal backer since he took power in 2006, but has reluctantly conceded that he must step aside to save Iraq from implosion. After years of discrimination against Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities by his Shia-led government, Mr al-Maliki is considered too widely hated to lead the country out of crisis.

Tehran is therefore ready to ditch the prime minister and has drawn up a list of potential replacements. Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni power in the region, has said it will urge Iraqi groups it can influence to join a unity government, but only if Mr al-Maliki goes. [Continue reading…]

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