US backs Saudi-Iran dialogue in Iraq but denies involvement

Senior US official blames Iranian-backed militias for attacks on Iraqi protesters

A member of Kataib Hezbollah paramilitary group holds an Iraqi flag and travels in a vehicle as he takes part in a parade ahead of the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Baghdad, Iraq May 6, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
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A US senior official on Monday said the Biden administration supports Iraq's efforts at hosting talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but that Washington would take no role.

Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, said open dialogue is always preferable to war.

“Jaw, jaw is better than war, war,” Mr Hood said, using a quote attributed to British leader Winston Churchill when asked about talks between Riyadh and Tehran that have been taking place in Iraq.

“It is very important to have open dialogue to try to get things de-escalated.

"We support these talks, [but] we don’t have anything to do with them,” Mr Hood said at an event at the Brookings Institution think tank in the US capital.

Last week, Iraqi President Barham Salih confirmed the talks were convened in early April and have continued since.

“Iraq hosted more than one round of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which are ongoing, important and of major significance,” Mr Salih told an event hosted by the Beirut Institute think tank.

Mr Hood said he hoped these talks would shape a positive role for Iraq in the Middle East.

"We support the Iraqi government in playing that role as a convener rather than a battleground," he said.

But Mr Hood criticised Iran’s role in Iraq and hit out at Tehran-backed militias.

“It’s Iran that imposes itself as a focus of Iraq policy. Rockets are getting fired at everybody – who is doing that? Iranian-backed militias. Protesters are getting killed in hundreds – who is doing that? Iranian-backed militias.”

He blamed the same militias for attacking the US embassy in Baghdad, “getting involved in business deals and dumping agricultural products on the market and driving Iraqi farmers out of work".

“We can’t ignore that all of that is happening,” Mr Hood said.

He renewed the US' commitment to helping Iraq’s government and national leaders. He expressed a “lot of optimism” following his trip to Baghdad and Erbil last week.

“Our relationship with Iraq is always going to be important regardless of who will be in power,” he said.

During the visit, the US delegation discussed the American troop presence and the status of strategic talks in meetings with Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi and Mr Salih.