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Saudi engagement with Iraqi Shiites stirs talk of opening with Iran

Saudi Arabia’s engagement with Iraqi Shiite figures gives rise to speculation about a potential opening between Tehran and Riyadh.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.       TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS19RFI

On May 2, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman (now the crown prince) said in a television interview that dialogue with Iran was impossible due to Iranians' belief in the Shiite Messiah. “Their stance is that the awaited Mahdi will come, and they need to create a fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi, and they need to take over the Islamic world,” bin Salman said when he was deputy crown prince. He then asked, “Where are the common points that we might be able to reach an understanding on with this regime?”

Almost three months later, on July 31, the crown prince received in the western port city of Jeddah prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr is the leader and founder of what used to be called the Mahdi Army — named after the same Shiite Messiah mentioned above whose reappearance Sadr believes in. The Iraqi cleric has also publicly expressed harsh views of Saudi Arabia. In 2016, he reacted to the execution of Saudi Shiite dissident cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr by calling on Saudi Shiites to take to the streets and by describing the authorities in the kingdom as "Daesh [Islamic State] rascals.”

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