Saudi King Abdullah congratulated Haider al-Abadi on his appointment as Iraq’s new prime minister, the state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday, in a sign of Riyadh’s eagerness to see the departure of his predecessor Nuri al-Maliki.
In a message sent to Abadi, SPA said the king called on “God Almighty to grant you success … in restoring cohesion” among the Iraqi people and “preserving Iraq’s unity and achieving its security, stability and development”.
While the king routinely issues notes of congratulation to newly elected or appointed leaders, his message to Abadi is especially significant because of the political uncertainty in Iraq, where Maliki has refused to step aside.
Top Saudi officials have frequently lambasted Maliki as being a tool of Iran and ruling only on behalf of the Shi’ites. Earlier this year Maliki accused Riyadh of funding Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq’s western Anbar province, a charge Saudi Arabia vehemently rejected.
The insurgents have since taken control of vast swathes of Iraqi territory and renamed themselves the Islamic State.
Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal welcomed Maliki’s departure. Asked if it was a prerequisite for stability and security in Iraq, he replied: “It’s the only good news I heard lately.”
Saudi Prince Muqrin, former head of intelligence and now second-in-line to the throne, described Maliki as “an Iranian 100 percent” in comments to visiting U.S. officials relayed in a July 2008 embassy cable released by the WikiLeaks website. Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals on opposite sides of the Middle East’s Sunni-Shi’ite divide.
Iran on Tuesday welcomed the nomination of Abadi, a move highlighting Tehran’s concern over instability in Iraq.