A new partnership 30 years in the making?


In April, the news was that Iraq was mediation Between longtime foes Saudi Arabia and Iran have obsessed Middle East watchers. Iraq new role As a Saudi-Iranian mediator comes at a time when the Saudis have taken concrete steps in recent years to build… meaningful relationship with their northern neighbor, such as the reopening of their borders last November for the first time since 1990. However, while the new Saudi-Iraqi relationship is already noteworthy, Iraq has been simultaneously developing a regional partnership with two other Arab states: Egypt and Jordan. In fact, Baghdad hosted a summit In late June, in the presence of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and King Abdullah II of Jordan. This is the fourth time that the leaders of the three countries have met since March 2019, and the first time on Iraqi soil. It was also the first visit of an Egyptian president to Iraq in more than 30 years.

At first glance, a partnership that brings together Egypt, Iraq and Jordan seems somewhat strange. One commentator, not without reason, called it a coalition made up of “Solo colleagues in the area. However, Iraq has historically had important economic relations with both Egypt and Jordan, and in fact, the three countries – along with North Yemen – came together in a very short-lived partnership called the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC) from 1989 to 1990. Today lies the cooperation The economic, as it was 30 years ago, is at the heart of the tripartite relations. But then and now it also has strategic goals. In the long term, the new partnership is likely to herald a much more ambitious project to bring together not only Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, but the Levant countries on a large wider.

Back to the future

Close economic relations between Iraq, Egypt and Jordan date back to the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War. Jordan became Iraq Economic lifeline At the time, it served as a conduit for oil imports and exports through the port of Aqaba. Jordan also got most of its oil from Iraq, with significant support. King Hussein was the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s closest ally at the time, and he visited Baghdad often during the war. Meanwhile, Egypt has seen more than one million of its citizens moved to Iraq during the 1980s to fill positions that became vacant due to the mass conscription of Iraqis into the armed forces – to the point that Iraq was the largest source of remittances in Egypt.

Soon after the war ended, the three countries, joined by North Yemen, formed the ACC. Each had a political motive for drafting the agreement. All the allies wanted to balance against the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi-led coalition of the six Gulf states created during the war. Saddam owed the Saudis billions of dollars in war loans, while Oman and Sanaa had long-standing concerns about Saudi expansion and interference in their internal affairs.

However, economic cooperation constituted a central pillar of the formation. The ACC was imagined As a mechanism to increase trade between member states, as well as to facilitate labor movements, especially from Egypt and Jordan to Iraq.

The ACC barely took off before it collapsed due to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. But even during the 1990s, as Iraq faced a burdensome international sanctions regime, trade between it and Egypt and Jordan continued. Iraq remained Egypt’s second largest export market, under the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program. Jordan remained dependent on Iraqi oil, which it continued to receive with American acceptance. King Hussein reluctantly separated from his old friend Saddam when Washington agreed to welcome back Jordan as a close ally.

It is therefore not surprising that Egypt and Jordan were among the first Arab countries to establish relations with the new Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. In 2005, then Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran became the largest Arab official to visit Iraq since the invasion. Three years later, Abdullah was the first Arab head of state to visit. Egypt and Iraq restored trade relations in 2004. The following year, Cairo sent an ambassador to Baghdad, although tragically the Egyptian diplomat was. assassinated by al-Qaeda in Iraq a few weeks after his arrival. The Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad was also among the first goals of al-Qaida in Iraq.

The development of economic relations between Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan was significantly hampered by the sectarian civil war in the 2000s and the rise of the Islamic State in the 2000s. But in recent years, the three countries have once again taken meaningful steps to rebuild economic ties. In 2017, Egypt started receiving oil from IraqAfter Saudi Arabia cut off its oil supplies. Jordan began receiving Iraqi oil in 2019. Since then at least 2017The three countries expected to implement a major joint energy project linking the Iraqi oil fields in Basra and Aqaba via a pipeline that could be extended to Egypt. Meanwhile, Iraq has also looked to Egyptian and Jordanian companies for the massive reconstruction projects it will need to recover from four decades of war. There is, too plans To connect Iraq, Jordan and Egypt to electricity networks to reduce its dependence on electricity exported from Iran.

However, the three countries are cash-strapped – a The main challenge to their ambitions. At the end of last year, Egypt and Iraq agreed, in fact, to trade Iraqi oil to help the Egyptians in the reconstruction. In the long term, the three countries will need to seek funding from outside parties.

As Iraq heads to elections this fall, most of its leaders seem enthusiastic about the partnership’s economic promises. Discussions on the project were already underway during Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s premiership. Subsequently, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, on his first foreign trip as prime minister in March 2019, attended the first tripartite summit in Cairo. President Barham Salih met with Sisi and Abdullah in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, in September 2019. Incumbent Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi topped the Iraqi presence at the third summit in Amman in August 2020.

The new Levant?

Economic cooperation is the driving force behind the formation, but as in 1989, each of the three has a political incentive to come together. Iraq wants to diversify its regional relations outside Iran – although it is important to stress that Baghdad does not aim to develop its relations with its Arab neighbors at the expense of its relationship with Tehran. Iraq wants friendly relations with both. The Iranians, for their part, may actually view Iraq’s economic cooperation with Egypt and Jordan favorably – if, in the future, they will also be able to benefit economically. By contrast, if Egypt and Jordan, as well as the United States, sought to use the formation as a means of isolating Iran, Tehran would undoubtedly sow problems. The extent to which Iran may be allowed to benefit will ultimately depend on the outcome of its ongoing negotiations with the Biden administration.

Meanwhile, Egypt and Jordan want to reduce their dependence on Saudi Arabia. For Jordan, this is critical after reports of Saudi involvement in a file modern conspiracy To destabilize the country and replace King Abdullah with former Crown Prince Hamzah. The new formation will give Jordan, as well as Egypt and Iraq, greater leverage vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

But the most important political goal, albeit still implicit, may be to provide a long-term means to rehabilitate Syria. The leaders of the three countries began calling their formation “the new Levant” or “the new land of the Levant.”al-Sham al-JadidIn Arabic. Levant is a reference to the city of Damascus, and more broadly to Syria and the Levant. By definition, there can be no new “Sham” without Syria. Perhaps it is not surprising that Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan declare that the partnership in their new bloc will be open to other countries in the region , without specifying which. In fact, this aspect of the new formation also has roots in the short-lived ACC experience. The member states of the ACC did not view their partnership as exclusive, and there were some stay tuned Syria and Lebanon may have joined at some point.

The formation of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan is in many ways the revival of the old ACC, which has been disrupted for 30 years by instability and the war in Iraq. The United States has welcome It should continue to support this growing partnership of three of its close partners in the region. In the long run, if Syria and Lebanon are invited to join, US support will be complicated by the continued in power of Bashar al-Assad, who is rightly seen as a war criminal. However, the “New Orient” project can ultimately serve as a means to carry out the massive reconstruction needed in Syria and reduce the great economic misery of the people there and in Lebanon.

After a decade of war in Syria, and four decades of war in Iraq, there has been no greater need for a new vision for the region. The kernel of a new beginning may lie in an economic partnership that was first launched more than 30 years ago.

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