Iraq’s Return as a Source of Stability

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Medlir Mema, PhD
Fellow, Middle East Policy Council


While Afghanistan seems to be devolving into chaos, in Iraq new developments may indicate a more positive future. Last week, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi welcomed to the Baghdad Conference on Cooperation and Partnership leaders from the region, along with French President Emanuel Macron.  More than 15 years since the US invasion and the subsequent instability that enveloped Iraq, as well as its neighbors, many have expressed optimism that the Baghdad Conference may finally signal Iraq’s return as a source of stability in the region.

Ghassan Charbel, the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, is among those who see last week’s developments in Iraq as an important turning point for the country, which in many ways has become more stable than its neighbors: “No one can claim that the picture is rosy and that the mission is accomplished. But we can say that Iraq has managed to make strides in rebuilding its ties with the Kurdish region and beyond its borders. Syria, for example, has not managed to do this. Lebanon also appears in no way ready to do so because of the absolute coma of its ruling authority that is preoccupied with cosmetic solutions while the country hurtles towards the fire…. Two decades ago, Baghdad was on the precipice of a cycle of collapse. The Arab world is hoping that the return of Iraq would lead to different days in neighboring countries and beyond. The return of Iraq to its home and fold would definitely restore a measure of balance that had been thrown off by its absence.”

The sentiment seems to be shared by many of the regional leaders present at the conference. According to a Peninsula report, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani noted, “The State of Qatar believes that Iraq is qualified to play an active role in establishing security and peace in the region,”… expressing his readiness to support Iraq to restore its role and the status it deserves on both regional and international levels…. The State of Qatar also believes that Iraq can be one of the pillars of stability in the region with the support of neighboring countries and the international community to put an end to turning the country into ‘an arena for international conflicts,’ as stated by Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi in his opening speech.

The Kadhimi government has been keen to emphasize that under the prime minister’s leadership, Iraq is determined to chart its own course. Until recently such words were interpreted as mere aspirations. However, a recent Daily Sabah article reporting Iraq’s likely purchase of Turkish military hardware, points to efforts by the Iraqi government to cast its net wide: “Iraq has reportedly expressed its interest in buying Turkish-built unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), helicopters and military hardware. Speaking on Iraqi television, Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Anad Saadoun reportedly said that Iraq had ‘reached a consensus’ with Turkey concerning the purchase of that country’s Bayraktar TB2 UCAV…. The minister’s remarks came after he attended the International Defense Exhibition (IDEF 2021) in Istanbul earlier this month. He met with his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, and held meetings with senior Turkish defense industry officials.”

In a recent editorial, Gulf News emphasized the fact that hosting the Baghdad Conference on Cooperation and Partnership is not just important to the future of Iraq, but also serves as a reminder of the interdependence of Iraqi security with that of the other countries in the region: “As long as tensions and conflicts continue to impact its neighborhood, Iraq will always face that challenge. With the tension between Iran and the US, and similarly, Turkey and Syria, non- state actors, such as Hashed militias, which are funded and armed by Iran, tend to do their sponsors bidding. In the last few months, as Iran continues to negotiate the revival of the nuclear deal with the US and the West, its proxies in Iraq have been attacking US and foreign targets, ostensibly to improve Tehran’s position in the negotiations…. The region has had more than its share of conflicts and bloodshed. It is time the Middle East focused on human and economic development. The Baghdad conference is a good step towards that direction.”

In fact, as this National editorial asserts, the conference was more than just about Iraq, but rather a platform for further regional cooperation: “The summit in Baghdad is a positive story, something that the region needs more than ever…. Saturday’s Baghdad Conference for Co-operation and Partnership, hosted by Iraq, means that August is concluding with a measure of good news. Leaders and senior officials from across the Middle East and beyond participated in the one-day summit, some of whom shared sessions with supposed regional rivals, in a bid to promote dialogue and partnership over hostility…. Decades of instability in Iraq make this ultimate goal difficult to achieve. But the conference reminded all in attendance that the remedies are obvious: co-operation and building partnerships among countries that have influence over Baghdad.”

Participants in the Baghdad Conference seem to have wasted no time in making efforts to improve or build deeper relationships between their countries. For example, the official Egyptian daily Al Ahram asserts that, during the course of the meetings, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi “affirmed Iraq’s keenness to benefit from Egypt’s inspiring experience in building state institutions, achieving sustainable development and carrying out national projects….  El-Sisi affirmed the need to accelerate the implementation of joint projects between Egypt and Iraq so that the economic achievements between the two countries align with their political achievements…. El-Sisi and Al-Kadhimi also followed up on the implementation of trilateral cooperation projects involving Egypt, Iraq and Jordan.”

In another development signaling the regional importance of the conference, the Egyptian president met on the sidelines with Qatari leaders, signaling a desire for better relations, developments which, as this Egypt Independent report notes, are remarkable considering Qatar’s fraught relations with its Arab neighbors: “Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday met with Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad. The spokesperson for the Egyptian Presidency, Bassam Rady, said that Sisi affirmed his nation’s keenness towards fruitful cooperation for the sake of beneficial development, and its support towards Arab solidarity based on mutual respect…. According to Rady, the meeting… discussed the importance of continuing all consultations and working to advance relations, with the aim of restoring various bilateral cooperation mechanisms, in line with the progress witnessed in the course of Egyptian-Qatari relations, based upon what was stipulated in the al-Ula Declaration.”

For his part, French President Macron, whose insistence on participating in person at the meeting signaled a desire for France to play a greater role in the region, used the opportunity to visit Iraq’s Kurdish region. The visit to Erbil, for Zana Kurda, the author of an op-ed for the Kurdish website Rudaw “has particular significance in conveying the crucial role the French leadership foresees for the Kurdistan Region within its Iraq and Middle East strategies. Macron has made intensive engagement in Iraq an important cornerstone of France’s strategy in the Middle East…. Following  the independence referendum in September 2017, Baghdad took unprecedented harsh measures aimed at total isolation of the Kurdistan Region. It was only following diplomatic intervention by France that Baghdad returned to the negotiation table.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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