By Mehmet Kıvanç
The conference of country’s neighboring Iraq has convened in Baghdad on August 28. The conference, which has been in preparation for a long time, has coincided with the days of US defeat in Afghanistan. Countries neighboring Iraq as well as regionally influential states were invited, such as Turkey, France, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. Iraqi ministers invited leaders of these countries one by one and personally. France was the only country participating from outside the region, reflecting the desire of French president Macron to have a say in West Asian affairs.
9 countries held Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership on Saturday, August 28. Not represented on the conference was Syria. While France was the only present European / Western country, the conference got together countries that for a long time had cut off diplomatic ties with each other.
The regional conference took place one and half months before the Iraqi elections and while the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan was still going on. During the summit, the new Iranian Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian met with UAE Prime Minister Mohammad bin Rasheed. The Egyptian President Abdulfettah el Sisi met with Qatari Emir Tamam Bin Al Thani. The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu took part in the conference’s so-called family photography together with the Egyptian President.
All participants emphasized in speeches their commitment to Iraq’s territorial integrity and stability. Stating that “Iraq’s stability affects the regions’ stability, and the region’s stability affects Iraq’s stability, the Iraqi Foreign Minister Foad Husein pointed to diplomatic measures in problem-solving. Hosein stated “Iraq has not hosted such an international summit since the 1980s, this is a historic event.”
The summit’s final declaration called to unite national and regional efforts to establish stability. The declaration stated “the participating countries acknowledge the Iraqi government’s efforts for institutionalization and support holding the elections under international observation in order to secure an impartial and just voting.”
The West detects a new period in the Middle East
The Vice President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Marwan Muasher published an article titled ‘America’s declining influence in the Arab World’ in the Economist. The first sentence: “The end of ‘unipolar moment’ was bound to come sooner or later.”
Again the Economist published another article titled “Francis Fukuyama on the end of hegemony on August 18, announcing the end of an era. The article emphasized that the ‘unipolar world’ which had reached its summit with the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, has retreated from the scene – without hope for return.
An article published on August 25 in the Foreign Policy, experts discuss how the Middle East prepares to a post-American era. It seems reasonable to interpret the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership within this context.
Baghdad opens doors to a multi-polar world
The fact that several adversary countries that broke diplomatic ties with each other, convened in Baghdad has great importance for Iraq. The country has been an experimental field for hybrid wars before, and it displayed the intent till the end to force regional diplomacy for problem solving.
Two important issues for Baghdad to achieve stability in its own territory are the conflict between the US and Iran as well the hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In both cases, Iraq is the theater of a conflict where it does not want to take a side. For the US and its Gulf allies, it is the territory to start an attack on Iran, for Iran, it is the main line it feels compelled to defend. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Mostapha el Qazimi, Iraq intends to escape the vicious circle.
Baghdad is deeply concerned that in 2021, when the US military mission on its soil ends, regional tensions may continue in form of new hybrid wars on its territory. The parliamentary elections in the country expected to be held in October may also lead to further instability debited to the Iraqi political system, thus eventually fuelling new conflicts.
Iraq closely watches the bloodshed that ISIS – using the label ‘Islamic State Khorasan’ – caused in the Kabul airport, as the country itself has witnessed endless bloody terror acts in the past. The possibility that the Taliban’s takeover of power and the following chaotic situation might encourage terror cells in Iraq as well to reactivate themselves is worrying enough for Iraqi government representatives.
Therefore, it is possible to state that Iraq prioritizes good relations with neighbors as preparation for a post-American future. The Raisi government recently established in Iran displays a similar approach. The new Iranian Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian, known to be close to the Revolutionary Guards, after being officially introduced to office tweeted first: “Our priority are our neighbors and Asia.”
Macron is in Iraq the second time in a year
The French President Macron has visited Beirut almost immediately after the explosion. He became part of tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. He took several steps in Libya and Algeria. These are some of the headlines from France’ Middle East and North Africa policy.
Until Trump cancelled the agreement in 2018, France was one of the biggest benefiters of the nuclear agreement with Iran, thanks to its economic agreements with Tehran. The US withdrawal from the JCPOA and Washington’s policy of maximum pressure on Tehran led to the fast deterioration of Irani-Saudi relations, which in turn resulted in serious economic losses for France. Most striking example was the fact that the French company Total had to cancel its plans of joint oil and gas exploration in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, Baghdad’s policy to provide peace between Iran and the Gulf countries also promises a situation of stability that will enable French economic investments. This might be one of the reasons why Macron has visited Baghdad twice in one year. France seems decided to fill in part the vacuum that the US leaves behind.
“Given the political events, this conference has taken a special turn”, Macron said at the summit. He said his country would continue to deploy troops in Iraq to battle terrorism even if the US were to withdraw.
Are the Arab Spring’s hostilities coming to an end?
The Qatari state is without doubt the great regional sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. Still, the Egyptian President Abdulfettah Al Sisi met with the Qatari Emir Al Thani the first time since 2015. After meeting Al Sisi and further delegations in Iraq, the Emir flew to Istanbul.
The Iraqi President Berham Salih met with journalists and provided the following information concerning contacts with Syria:
“I have met recently with the Syrian President Bashar al Assad and discussed the political solution. We had a very long meeting. We came to a general consensus concerning the political solution. I will surely share with my colleagues the content of this meeting. I believe strongly that new proposals and new developments will arise following these negotiations. It seems impossible for all of us to achieve stability, before stability is established in Syria.”
While the region was occupied with the Baghdad Conference, the Israeli Prime Minister Bennett flew to Washington. The US President Biden made the emphasis of “unshakeable alliance” and provided securities to Israel.
It is difficult to forecast the results of the Baghdad Conference without witnessing Israel’s responses. The Jerusalem Post reported on the summit with an article titled ‘Conference seen as a turning point’. Israel reminded of its existence by hitting Gaza the night the Conference had convened.
How will the open and official relations between Israel and the Gulf countries, established during the Trump administration, affect the efforts to improve relations between the Gulf and Iran? How will Egypt balance its relations with Greece and the Greek Administration of South Cyprus, while bridges between Ankara and Cairo are being reconstructed? Can certain problems in the negotiations concerning the JCPOA create a dead end for the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran?
Though many questions still await answers, the Baghdad Conference on Cooperation and Partnership may be seen as a positive start for various reasons.
Simply the fact that the French President, the King of Jordan, the Emir of Qatar, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, the Foreign Minister of Iran, the Foreign Minister of Turkey and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia have all been able to come together on the same platform hints already and by itself to a new situation.