Torn by internal problems, Iraq has acted as a platform for dialogue between regional players. The Conference on Cooperation and Partnership was the first large-scale international event in the Iraqi capital in nine years. Representatives of nine states, including Saudi Arabia and Iran, gathered at the same table in Baghdad. This was impossible to imagine under the previous American administration, which tried to create a coalition of the Arab states of the Gulf and Israel against Tehran.
The solution of regional conflicts is possible only when mutual interests are taken into account and in accordance with the principles of good neighborliness, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for national sovereignty. These are the words of the final communiqué of the Conference on Cooperation and Partnership, which took place on Saturday in Baghdad.
The Iraqi authorities did not hide the fact that the event had two goals. The first is to create conditions for de-escalating tensions between other countries in the region, which can help restore stability to Iraq. The second goal is to give impetus to economic cooperation. As a result, all the assurances Baghdad needed were received. The conference participants expressed their support for the efforts of the Iraqi government to strengthen state institutions, including during the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, and also pledged assistance in rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure and addressing other issues, from the fight against terrorism and the coronavirus pandemic to problems related to climate change. As a result of the event, it was decided to form a committee, which will include representatives of the foreign ministries of the countries participating in the conference, to prepare further meetings and discuss economic and investment projects presented by Iraq.
“We do not accept the use of our country as an arena for international and regional conflicts, as well as a springboard from which a threat to any other side can come,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kazemi said at the conference. Less than a month and a half left before the parliamentary elections, a fierce struggle for power begins in the country not only between Iraqi politicians, but also the regional players behind them. Mr Kazemi became the compromise prime minister in May 2020 amid popular unrest after his two predecessors failed to get parliamentary approval for their proposed government.
The Iraqi prime minister is considered close to Washington; nevertheless, as a former head of national intelligence, he is brilliant at maintaining contacts with all regional forces. However, he is not going to remain in the post of prime minister after the elections. Iraq lives in anticipation of new chaos. It is all the more important for the Iraqi leadership to achieve the consent of its neighbors not to undermine the country’s security, but, on the contrary, to do everything to ensure that the stop there remains stable.
Moreover, the format of the US military mission in the country is expected to change by the end of the year. Officially, it is said about the withdrawal of 2,500 American troops from Iraq, but de facto, an option is being considered to reformat their mission into an advisory one. In any case, the situation in Afghanistan makes one think about the prospects.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who took part in the Iraqi summit, promised Baghdad that, whatever the choice of the United States, the French presence in Iraq to fight terrorism will remain as long as the Iraqi government requires it.
In addition to Emmanuel Macron, the summit was attended by President of Egypt Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, King of Jordan Abdullah II, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Prime Minister of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates Mohammad bin Rashad Maktoum, as well as Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran Mevlut Cavusoglu, Prince Faisal bin Farhan and Hossein Amir Abdollahian, respectively. Initially, it was about the summit of the neighboring countries of Iraq.
But in the end, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was not invited there, as his presence caused too much controversy, and for Iraq the conference was a priority. Moreover, the Syrian line is not so important for him so far.
Having lost its sovereignty after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime by an international coalition in 2003, Iraq has become a territory where the interests of the leading regional players – Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as the United States – clash. It was in Baghdad, in response to shelling of military bases and an attempt to storm the US embassy by pro-Iranian forces, that the US military carried out an operation to eliminate the commander of the Iranian special forces Al-Quds of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qasem Soleimani and the deputy commander of the Iraqi Shiite militia Al-Hashd al-Shaabi »Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. And the more the administration of US President Donald Trump put pressure on Tehran, including by rallying the anti-Iranian coalition from Arab countries and Israel, the more active in the region were groups loyal to Iran. In Baghdad they understood
With the arrival of the Joe Biden administration in the White House, the idea arose to resume dialogue with Tehran. In April, consultations began in Vienna to bring the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. Almost simultaneously with the Vienna consultations in Baghdad, the first round of dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Iran took place, which severed diplomatic relations in 2016. This was followed by another series of meetings, but they were all non-public. It was not ruled out that at the summit in Baghdad, representatives of Riyadh and Tehran will meet at the sight of cameras. However, this did not happen, although, according to Reuters, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian managed to talk in Baghdad with representatives of the UAE and Kuwait.
For the newly appointed Iranian Foreign Minister, the trip to Iraq was a debut. And immediately there was a scandal. The Arab media are actively discussing that, in violation of protocol, at the ceremony of photographing the summit participants, he stood in the first row where the leaders of the states were.
He also made a significant mistake in the amount of trade between Iran and Iraq, declaring $ 300 billion instead of $ 13, and the Iraqi prime minister had to correct him. In general, the statements of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in Baghdad stood out from the conciliatory atmosphere of the summit. Immediately upon arrival in the Iraqi capital, he went to the site of the murder of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
“The US had to answer for this,” he said. Nevertheless, Baghdad looks to the future with hope. As Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said at the final press conference, “Saudi-Iranian meetings will continue.” “We understood from both sides,
US President Joe Biden praised the efforts of the Iraqi leadership to host the summit. “This kind of diplomacy has never been more important as we seek to reduce tensions between neighboring states and expand cooperation across the Middle East, and Iraq’s leadership on this issue is historic,” the president said in a White House statement. The day before, Joe Biden met in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. According to Mr. Biden, Washington is now giving preference to a diplomatic approach to the Iranian issue. “If diplomacy fails, we are ready to turn to other options,” he said. These words were perceived in Tehran as a direct threat. Mr. Bennett happily agreed. “Israel followed the summit in Baghdad very closely.
They are afraid here that the United States will withdraw from Iraq and this will weaken the American role in the region, on the contrary, strengthening the Iranians there. The mediating role of Baghdad in the weakening of the US position can lead to a rapprochement between Iran and the Arab countries, primarily the flooded monarchies. This will obviously happen due to the cooling of their relations with Israel and the freezing of the normalization process, ”Ksenia Svetlova, an expert at the interdisciplinary center in Herzliya, told Kommersant.