Since the end of this summer Iraq has increased its relations with other Arab countries. Many countries in the region were opposed to the U.S. invasion, and then immediately afterwards the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi targeted Arab delegations in Baghdad. As a result, most Middle Eastern countries ended up withdrawing their diplomats. That began to change in 2008. In recent months the Iraqi government has either received ambassadors from or met with politicians and leaders of Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Syria, Egypt, and Kuwait.
Several Arab countries have sent delegations to Iraq beginning in August. The first came from Jordan when King Abdullah II made an unannounced visit to Baghdad. He was the first Arab leader to go to Iraq since the 2003 invasion. The King’s visit was worked out during a trip Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki made to Jordan in June 2008. The King’s trip also accomplished some business deals as Iraq agreed to supply his country with oil for three years. Jordan is largely dependent upon Iraq for its petroleum needs. A week and a half later Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora arrived. He too was looking for an oil deal. The Prime Minister followed the majority leader of Lebanon’s parliament, Saad Hariri, who came to Iraq in July. In early October Egypt’s Foreign Minister, Oil Minister, and Energy Minister paid a visit. They discussed new diplomatic relations as well as business deals on Iraq’s oil infrastructure. It was the first time that country had sent officials to Iraq since 1990. A few days later, Abu Dhabi’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan came to Iraq. He brought with him businessmen who wanted to invest in Iraq. All four trips to Iraq symbolized the end of the country’s isolation from the Middle East. Since the invasion, Iran was the only country in the region that regularly sent politicians to Iraq. Now Arab countries are opening up as well.
Iraq has also recently received several diplomats from its neighbors. In early September the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador arrived in Iraq. He was the first new Arab diplomat since the invasion. As part of this opening, the UAE also forgave $4 billion that Iraq owed it. Syria was the next country to send an ambassador. When Egypt’s two ministers came to Iraq they also said that their country would re-open its mission in Baghdad that had been closed in July 2004 after a diplomat was kidnapped and killed by Zarqawi’s group. That same month Bahrain’s ambassador arrived as well as a representative from the Arab League. Next was Syria’s ambassador, the first in 25 years. The two countries had been rivals over Arab nationalism during the Saddam years. Now the two were restoring ties. Jordan joined the parade of countries to restore full relations as well. Kuwait also sent an ambassador, the first since Saddam invaded their country in 1990. Saudi Arabia is the only major country in the region not to have full diplomatic ties with Iraq. In 2007, they said that they would be sending an ambassador, but that hasn’t happened yet. The Saudis in fact, have been trying to stop other Arab nations from opening up to Iraq. One reason is because of their rivalry with Iran. The Saudis see Baghdad in Iran’s sphere of influence. The Kingdom has also been making demands of the Iraqis to work with Sunnis and the Sons of Iraq. Saudi Arabia actually has little influence over either Iraq’s government or the country’s Sunnis, and may be holding out simply over pride.
All of these new ties are important for Iraq. Not only are they being accepted back into the brotherhood of countries in the Middle East, it is also diversifying their diplomatic and economic options. Since the 2003 invasion, America, England, and Iran were the only countries that really supported Baghdad. In turn, Iraq was often caught in the middle between the U.S. and Iran with nowhere else to turn at the time. Now it has a variety of other countries it can look to for help. Of course, it is also important to note that many of these countries are American-allies, and have come under increasing pressure by the White House to establish new ties with Iraq. Just as important, the Middle East is also offering investment and business ties for an economy that is almost completely dependent upon oil, and still needs billions for reconstruction. Hopefully these new ties can lesson the dependency the country has upon the U.S. and Iran, and help with the rebuilding of the country.
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Agence France Presse, “Egyptian FM, on Iraq visit, says time to boost ties,” 10/5/08
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