Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Iraq's rejection of Makkah communique was expected, analysts say

Baghdad is caught between Tehran and Washington as it relies heavily on both

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks to Iraq's President Barham Salih at the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation summit in Makkah on May 30, 2019. Saudi Royal Palace / EPA
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talks to Iraq's President Barham Salih at the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation summit in Makkah on May 30, 2019. Saudi Royal Palace / EPA

Iraq’s opposition to the Makkah communique that condemned Iran’s interference in regional affairs is not surprising and will not hinder Baghdad’s relations with the Gulf, experts say.

Saudi Arabia hosted two emergency summits in Makkah last week that called on Iran to halt its terrorist funding and urged the international community to take strict measures against Tehran’s aggression after attacks on Gulf oil assets.

Tension between the US and Iran increased after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran last year, reimposed sanctions and increased military presence in the Gulf.

Mr Trump said the deal failed to curb Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons or halt its support for militias that the US believes is destabilising the region.

Requesting support from regional states, Iraqi President Barham Salih said that rising tension with Iran could spark a war if not managed properly.

“It is certain that we do not want Iran’s security to be targeted,” Mr Salih said.

He said the region needed stability based on a joint security venture.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Iraqi leaders that Washington would respond with force if they failed to keep under control the Iran-backed militias that are now part of Baghdad’s security apparatus.

For Iran, Washington's military presence on its doorstep in Iraq is a threat that could undermine its influence over Baghdad.

Washington and Tehran are Baghdad’s two main allies and Iraq is trying to walk a fine line between the two.

Iraq's officials have made it clear they will try to balance the country's interests in the region, Lara Fatah, Kurdish and Iraq analyst, told The National.

“It shares a long border with Iran and relations run deep," Ms Fatah said. "But at the same time it has been very dependent on the US and allied support in the fight against ISIS.

“It’s rare in this region to reach 100 per cent consensus.”

Baghdad has vowed to stand against unilateral steps taken by either side and offered to mediate the crisis.

“Although Iraq has its internal struggles and regional actors do interfere, it can play the role of mediator and re-establish itself on the regional scene,” Ms Fatah said.

It was inevitable that there would not be a consensus on Iran’s position in the region, said Michael Stephens, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

“I don’t think it’s a great surprise Iraq condemned the statement,” Mr Stephens said. "Iraq doesn’t have the luxury of being able to blame Iran when it relies on Iran for trade and energy supply.

There is a sizeable constituency in Iraqi politics “that simply doesn’t view Iran’s influence as an issue”, he said.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and UAE consider Iran the problem in the region, Mr Stephens said.

“Other countries simply don’t or their domestic politics don’t allow for such a position, so it’s always going to be difficult to get consensus on any joint statement with regard to the Iranians,” he said.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia understand that most of Iraq’s political sphere is in line with Iran’s policies in the region, said Hashim Al Hashimi, an Iraq expert.

“Iraq’s reservation will not affect its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE,” Mr Al Hashimi said.

Updated: June 3, 2019 01:29 AM

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