BAGHDAD – After many years of battle, Iraq is looking for to reclaim a management position and standing within the Arab world with a centrist coverage and a willpower among the many nation’s high leaders to keep up good relations with each Iran and the US.
A flurry of current diplomatic exercise and high-profile visits to the Iraqi capital, together with this month’s re-opening of a Saudi Consulate in Baghdad — for the primary time in practically 30 years — factors to a brand new period of openness because the nation sheds its conflict picture and re-engages with the world.
“Iraq is coming again to the neighborhood,” President Barham Salih advised The Related Press in an almost hour-long interview final month. The veteran politician laid out a imaginative and prescient centered on an “Iraq First” coverage, saying his nation can not afford to be caught in regional disputes.
“For nearly 4 many years Iraq was the area by which everyone pursued their agenda on the expense of the Iraqi folks. It is time we are saying we’d like a brand new political order … by which Iraq should be an vital pillar,” Salih mentioned.
Iraq has emerged from a ruinous three-year conflict towards the Islamic State group and faces the mammoth process of reconciling, rebuilding and returning tens of hundreds of displaced to their properties. And whereas the extremists’ territorial “caliphate” has been defeated in Iraq and Syria, the militants have now shifted to an insurgency marketing campaign of focused assassinations, automotive bombings, and suicide assaults.
The difficulty of Iran-backed Shiite militias who fought IS alongside Iraqi safety forces poses a problem to the federal government’s central authority, and the nation’s oil-based financial system is affected by wide-scale corruption.
“Iraq’s path to reclaiming a management position within the Arab world will rely on how profitable its leaders are in tackling safety and financial challenges at dwelling,” Randa Slim, a senior fellow on the Washington-based Center East Institute wrote lately.
Amid quickly escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, Iraq additionally wants to keep up a fragile steadiness with the 2 as Baghdad has robust ties with each international locations.
The dynamics are advanced. The Shiite-majority nation lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the largely Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has lengthy been a theater by which Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy performed out. Relations have been significantly frosty with Riyadh, which broke relations with Baghdad following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and by no means actually warmed a lot as Iraq was more and more pulled into Iran’s orbit in later years.
Iraq wants a lot assist and funding to rebuild its cities — one thing it could solely get from oil- and gas-rich Gulf international locations, together with Saudi Arabia. However it could additionally sick afford to alienate Iran, which holds monumental political and navy sway in Iraq by way of highly effective militias and pro-Iran politicians.
“We’ve got 1,400 kilometers of borders with Iran, we merely can’t ignore that actuality,” Salih mentioned, including that it is in Iraq’s nationwide curiosity to nurture good relations with Iran, with which Iraq fought an eight-year conflict within the ’80s. He mentioned Iraq, nevertheless, was additionally eager on good relations with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and different regional international locations.
Aware of the necessity to counter Iran’s rising affect within the area within the post-IS order, Saudi officers have sought nearer ties with Iraq, and final week despatched a high-level delegation to Baghdad the place the dominion’s consulate was inaugurated.
The Saudi delegation’s go to adopted a visit to Baghdad final month by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani throughout which the 2 sides signed a number of settlement designed to spice up bilateral relations.
It is a stark distinction from previous years when Baghdad was shunned and remoted, first due to worldwide sanctions after Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of neighboring Kuwait, and later, after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled him, when Iraq sank into cycles of sectarian bloodletting.
Amid the violence, worldwide dignitaries averted visits to the Iraqi capital, and after they did, made them transient and unannounced for safety concerns.
In 2007, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon famously ducked behind the rostrum throughout a dwell press convention with the prime minister on the time, Nouri al-Malki, as a rocket slammed exterior the constructing.
Now, Iraqi leaders say their nation just isn’t a part of any regional battle.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in his first international journey final month traveled to Cairo to fulfill with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. They had been joined by Jordanian King Abdullah II for a tripartite summit on measures to strengthen financial cooperation. On Tuesday, Abdul-Mahdi introduced he’ll quickly be visiting Saudi Arabia to signal a number of agreements.
Some are even suggesting that Iraq may play a mediating position between regional foes.
Lebanon’s parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, on a go to to Baghdad earlier this month, mentioned Iraq is a novel place to play an vital regional position “within the reconciliation between the dominion of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Watheq al-Hashemi, an Iraqi political analyst, mentioned it is a possibility for Iraq to once more develop into an vital regional participant.
However for that to occur, Iraqi politicians “must put nation earlier than sect and act as statesmen,” one thing he says they’ve had hassle doing for a very long time.