In a scenario of high inflation, war in Europe and threats from China, the last thing the West needed was tensions in the Middle East, the focus of so many concerns in recent decades. Two movements that took place this month, however, raised fears that enemies of the United States and its allies could gain strength in the region.
In the first week of October, the Organization of Producing Countries with the addition of Russia (OPEC+) decided to cut world production by 2 million barrels per day, which represents 2% of what is produced worldwide.
A official justification is to guard against the possibility of a world recession and raise commodity prices, which have fallen in recent months after a sharp rise. However, the move by OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia, was seen as a nod to Russia, as a rise in oil prices would help in its war against Ukraine.
The Another movement that attracted attention took place the following week: the appointment of Mohamed Shia al-Sudani, an Iran-aligned politician, for Iraqi Prime Minister, made by Kurdish Abdul Latif Rashid shortly after he was elected President by Parliament.
The appointment of al-Sudani, who was given 30 days to assemble a government, could end a year-long political crisis in the country. Iraq has been gripped by civil conflict between the followers of influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the traditional Iranian-aligned Shia blocs since the parliamentary elections in October last year.
The cleric is opposed to both Iran and the United States and his parliamentary group was the most voted in that race, but he failed to form a government and his protesters opposed al-Sudani’s appointment. After the resignation of 73 parliamentarians from the bloc linked to al-Sadr, he informed that he would withdraw from political life in Iraq in August.
The question that remains is whether al-Sudani will set up a government aligned with Iran, the historic enemy of the West. When asked at a press conference about the new Iraqi premier, Vedant Patel, a spokesman for the US State Department, suggested that the US expects Tehran to manage without interference.
“We are prepared to work with any government in Iraq that places Iraqi sovereignty and the best interests of the Iraqi people at the center of its agenda,” he said.
In the case of Saudi Arabia , the tight skirt of the OPEC+ announcement caused special embarrassment to President Joe Biden, as he had personally gone to the Arab country in July to speak with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS) to ask for an increase in oil production.
The Democratic president didn’t just have Russia in mind: high American inflation should cause his party to lose congressional seats in the November 8 midterm elections.
MBS, whom Biden had promised to treat as a harsh “outcast” During the presidential campaign of 2020 due to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, he ended up not complying with the American request, which motivated angry reactions from Democratic lawmakers, even asking for the rupture of the traditional alliance with the Saudis. .
The US government has promised changes in its relations with the kingdom, but has not yet detailed how this would be done. “What we are going to observe is which way want to follow. Do they want to side with Russia? Do they want to continue to provide that tacit support for the Russians’ ability to continue killing the Ukrainian people?” said John Kirby, spokesman for the US National Security Council.
Mohamad Bazzi, director of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Middle East Studies and a professor of journalism at New York University, defended a clear US change stance towards the Saudis in an article in the British newspaper The Guardian.
“Prince Mohammed has clearly concluded that he can get away with keeping oil prices high and undermining the US and EU campaign to isolate Russia – and still guarantee US protection and military assistance, because Biden cannot overcome the decades-long policy of American support for the House of Saud”, he argued.
It is worth remembering that Iran and the Taliban, traditional American enemies, have recently returned to the scene, with the sending of drones this month by Tehran to Russia attack Ukraine and the return of the Islamist group to power in Afghanistan last year, respectively.
In addition to Iran, another Russian partnership in the region was support for the Syrian government, decisive for the turn of the dictator Bashar al-Assad in the civil war fought in the country.
Strengthening or not?
Despite American concerns about the moves in Saudi Arabia and Iraq this month, some analysts do not believe that they necessarily represent a strengthening of the West’s enemies in the Middle East.
To Márcio Coimbra , postgraduate coordinator in institutional and governmental relations at Faculdade Presbiteriana Mackenzie Brasília (FBMB), the reduction in oil production is more a Saudi measure with economic objectives than a sign of support for Moscow.
“Saudi Arabia always thinks only of itself before any international alliance, and any Saudi alliance passes through the White House before lo Kremlin. I find it very difficult for the kingdom to pass over to Russia,” he argued, recalling the Washington-Riyadh partnership.
“The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington is not in the embassy region, it’s close to the Kennedy Center, closer to the White House, it’s a huge symbolism. The movements in OPEC+ are in favor of Saudi Arabia itself, not leading to a balance of power that could swing to the Russian side”, highlighted the specialist.
Regarding Iraq, Coimbra stated that it is necessary to wait for the formation of the new government, but he does not believe in a radical alignment with Iran – which, he highlighted, has a different Shiite line from the Iraqi one.
“We need to see how this government will be formed, because within a parliamentary government, there needs to be a coalition, which requires dialogue. There is rarely a radical government in this system, unless it has an absolute majority in Parliament. As in Iraq there is a confluence of different origins [curdos, xiitas e sunitas], different parties and different readings of Islam, it is always necessary to have dialogue governments. So, I believe in this more than in a government of confrontation”, justified Coimbra.