Al-Kadhimi leading pack on Arab détente: Iraq in the pivot of international maneuver
Shafaq News/ PM Mustafa al-Kadhimi's rapprochement with Arab capitals unlocked two parallel, yet equally crucial, pathways: resurrecting the novel Damascus project with Egypt and Jordan and injecting momentum into the sluggish relations with Gulf monarchies.
Those maneuvers entwined Iraq's political and economic ties with its parameters only to poise the ties with Iran, which are profoundly interwoven in the Iraqi formula's polarities, either internally via its network of proxies or externally via the confrontations with the U.S.
With the active openness approach, Iraq is extending the diameter of its safety zone, restores its axial and vital role in the region, and endorses its political and economic interests. The fruits of those maneuvers were immediately ripe, with Iraq concluding a series of agreements during al-Kadhimi's visit to KSA and UAE, including a deal upon Emirati investments in Iraq valued at three billion dollars on Sunday, preceded by an Iraqi-Saudi three billion dollar fund on March 31.
Al-Kadhimi’s maneuvers do not seem to imply conditions or signals of estrangement with other Iraqi commitments, namely Iran. Because Baghdad, like other capitals concerned with this openness, namely Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi, is probably aware -or has recently become aware of- the particularity of the Iraqi domestic and regional scene.
There seems to be an implicit recognition of the Arab alienation, the gulf in particular, to Iraq in the past years, and their failure to stand by it during the bloody challenges imposed on it during the years of ISIS’s occupation. Therefore, this mutual openness falls within the framework of the principle "better late than never".
Moreover, there is a growing trend in the decision-making bodies in Washington and Arab capitals that the retreat from Iraq in past years has left it with no option but to bolster its engagement with Iran. We are witnessing new attempts to redefine relations with Baghdad from a different perspective, in which economic and political interests prevail over the narrow view that has dictated this relationship in the past.
Ihsan Al-Shammari, head of the Center for Political Thinking, told Shafaq News agency, "The Arab and Gulf countries are opening up to Iraq after they started trusting the steps of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government, which succeeded in delivering its philosophy of cooperation with Gulf and Arab system. This philosophy relies on the Arab surroundings and its assistance in crises, and this has motivated the Gulf states to view with Al-Kadhimi's visits very positively."
"Iraq's agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the formation of a political and economic alliance between the three international parties have strengthened the convictions of the Gulf and Arab countries that Iraq is moving towards building firm balanced foreign relations," al-Shammari added.
"The region is now facing a major transformation after the arrival of the Joe Biden administration. Therefore, there is a strategy to establish unified positions between Arab and Gulf countries."
"The Arab and Gulf openness to Iraq is in Iraq's interest as these are anchor countries and have relations with Western systems. They are countries of very high economic weight, and Iraq needs such relations because it will enable it to receive assistance at various levels such as investment, energy, and others," al-Shammari clarified.
"Internal parties are trying to curb the Arab-Gulf openness with Iraq, and the task of the current or future governments remains to prevent interference in a file that is within the purview of the state and is not subject to the partisan, political, or even the regional mood," he concluded.
For his part, Khalil Abdullah al-Khalil, a former member of the Saudi Shura Council, told Shafaq News agency, "Mustafa al-Kadhimi's visit to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states is very important as it enhances the strategic partnership and opens up prospects for Iraq at the political, economic, security, and military level."
"Al-Kadhimi is characterized by his experience as a statesman. He is accepted by Saudi Arabia and other countries. He is seriously trying to rebuild Iraq for its government to be in control with no foreign interference, whether from the U.S., Iran, or the Gulf states," al-Khalil stated.
"Relations between Iraq and the Gulf states are based on good foundations and real openness. There was a strategic mistake in keeping the Gulf states away from Iraq since 1990. Relations with Iraq should have been maintained, especially after the 2003 U.S. occupation. It is crucial to support and help Iraq during these tough security and economic situations. Saudi Arabia will be the main country in opening up prospects between Iraq and the Gulf states and then to the countries of the world," he added.
"Iraq cannot be safe, stable, and prosperous without relations with Saudi security agencies; an information partnership, and some of the issues that Iraq needs militarily, economically, and technologically. Iraq's openness to the Gulf states does not mean that it will be far from the rest of the neighboring countries because Iraq has its sovereignty, its policy, and the freedom in relations with all countries," al-Khalil continued.
Al-Kadhimi and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz held online talks on March 25, 2021, ahead of al-Kadhimi's visit to Saudi Arabia on March 31. Saudi Arabia was supposed to be the first stop of al-Kadhimi's foreign tour after he took office last year, but it was postponed to July due to King Salman's illness.
During his visit on March 31, al-Kadhimi met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and signed several agreements, including the establishment of an Iraqi-Saudi joint fund, estimated at three billion dollars, cooperation in the fields of energy, the completion of the electrical connection project for its importance to the two countries, and the promoting investment opportunities for Saudi companies in Iraq.
In the UAE, where he met with Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the UAE Prime Minister, The Ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the visit resulted in allocating three billion dollars for investment in Iraq, the development of economic cooperation, increased trade, the promotion of investment between the two countries, the invitation of businessmen from the two countries to exchange visits, the establishment of the Iraqi-UAE Business Council, as well as establishing an agreement upon security and military cooperation and the exchange of information to combat terrorism.