DAVOS, Switzerland -- Iraq has begun sharing military intelligence with Saudi Arabia in a concerted effort to halt the advance of the Islamic State group, the Iraqi prime minister told International Business Times Friday.
"We have started bilateral contacts," Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in an afternoon interview here on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum. The extremist Islamist militant group also known as ISIS "is a common threat to both of us," he said, adding that intelligence sharing and military coordination "is starting at a very slow pace, but we look forward to it speeding up."
The prime minister's words directly collided with the statements of the Iraqi vice president, Ayad Allawi, who only a day earlier said Iraq was not sharing intelligence with Saudi Arabia or any other Arab government.
In an interview, the Iraqi vice president blamed deep-seated regional rivalries for what he described as a poorly coordinated and chaotic campaign against ISIS.
"There's a rift between the Arabs," Allawi told IBTimes. "There is no trust. The intelligence is undermined by distrust. Really, the whole region is not equipped to handle sharing."
Abadi's description also conflicted with the characterization of Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Saud, a, former head of Saudi intelligence and a former Saudi ambassador to the United States. He said here on Thursday that Saudi Arabia -- which is ruled by a Sunni Muslim monarchy -- had been rebuffed in offers to share intelligence with Iraq, where a Shiite-dominated government presides.
Some experts expressed skepticism that talk about the sharing of intelligence would actually yield results.
"You need a pretty radical shift on the geopolitical stage for intelligence sharing to happen," said Alex Vatanka, an expert on Saudi Arabia at the Middle East Institute, a research institution in Washington, describing this outcome as "not impossible" but unlikely.
American Secretary of State John Kerry told IBTimes he did not know whether the Saudi and Iraqi governments were now cooperating. But asked whether such a development would be helpful in the fight against ISIS, he nodded emphatically.
"Yes, a massive amount of intelligence sharing would be a very good development," he said, as aides squired him away to a private reception hall.
Following the interview with IBTimes, Abadi later said here in a public appearance that he had recently held a productive phone call with his Saudi counterparts.
Moderator Charlie Rose asked Abadi to describe the consequences of the ascendance of Crown Prince Salman to the throne in Saudi Arabia following the death on Friday of his brother King Abdullah.
"I hope to the positive," the prime minister replied. "We have a new government in Iraq. I think a new leader in Saudi Arabia, I hope, will be of benefit. I hope we can make a very good relationship between our two countries. We want very good international relationship in the region. We have to build that trust between us."
Abadi added that he hoped to convene a conference of regional leaders to better coordinate the campaign against ISIS.
Contrary to gloomy assessments offered here a day earlier by the Iraqi vice president -- who said ISIS was still gaining ground even in the face of coalition airstrikes -- the prime minister told the forum that the campaign was delivering palpable success.
"Today, with the support of our friends and neighbors with our coalition partners," Abadi said, ISIS' "momentum has been halted. In actual fact, it has been reversed."
He singled out as a key development intensified coalition airstrikes. "I have noticed an increase in the last two or three weeks," he said.
As ISIS has in recent months captured great swaths of Iraq and neighboring Syria, it has drawn recruits from Sunni Muslims, who nurse bitter grievances over discriminatory policies under the previous Iraqi government headed by Nouri al-Maliki.
Abadi has sought to mollify Sunnis in an effort to undercut ISIS' appeal. He told the forum that he was moving to release prisoners who have not been charged while courting foreign investment in an effort to create jobs.
Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have been fueled in large part by Iraq's close relations with Iran, the leading Shiite regional power. In his interview with Rose, the Iraqi prime minister suggested the extent of Iran's involvement in Iraq had been overblown.
"There is no single Iranian soldier fighting on our soil," Abadi said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the forum that the coalition assembled to address ISIS has yielded significant dividends. “Today in much of Iraq, Daesh’s momentum has dissipated,” he said, using an Arabic term for the extremist group.
A spokesman from the U.S. State Department said his office could not comment on intelligence sharing.
Erin Banco contributed to this report from New York.