On July 26, a meeting was held between US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House. Biden has announced that he will end the combat mission in Iraq this year.
Currently, there are 2,500 troops in Iraq, and this withdrawal will not change the de facto influence of the United States. The United States will shift its role to an advisory post in the Iraqi military. But this announcement marks the start of a new phase.
While struggling with its internal problems, Iraq is trying to undertake a new mission in regional politics. Its success in domestic politics will determine the extent to which Iraq is appropriate for the restoration of peace in the region.
Mediation efforts in the Middle East
Iraq’s role in the Middle East is changing. Al-Kadhimi who came to power in May 2020 is an unusual figure for Iraqi politics since he has no political party or militia. He has a background in journalism and was director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service.
The al-Kadhimi government is trying to maintain a balance between its relations with the United States and Iran. The Iraqi government also benefits from this experience in relations between Iran and Arab countries. Iraq is preparing to become a mediator between the great powers of the Middle East.
Baghdad has hosted Saudi-Iranian talks, and the ongoing negotiations will be important for regional peace and will be directly effective in some countries like Lebanon and Yemen.
The Iraqi prime minister’s office announced that there would be a regional summit at the end of August. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, French President Emmanuel Macron and King Salman of Saudi Arabia have been invited to this summit.
The summit will be notable for shaping the region’s future and may have some effect on Saudi-Iranian relations.
Turkey’s impact on regional peace also deserves our attention. Almost every country in the Middle East is influenced by Iran or Saudi Arabia except Turkey. Turkey presents itself as an independent player in the region. So his role in peacemaking is also essential and will contribute to the summit.
Iraq’s intermediation efforts are worth it. However, an appropriate mediator must be powerful in his internal affairs and achieve political stability. For this intermediary role, Iraq’s Arab identity over sectarianism is praised. Improving relations between Iraq and Arab countries contributes to this process.
Iraq’s relations with Arab countries
While striving to be a mediator, Iraq’s Arab identity is coming to the fore. Iraq is not indifferent to the problems of the countries of the region. In addition, it has good relations with many countries in the Middle East and the relations continue to improve.
For example, Saudi Arabia reopened its consulate in Baghdad in 2019 after nearly 30 years. The parties reopened the Arab border, which was closed after the Gulf War in 1991. In addition, the kingdom also made donations to Iraq and supported some of its development projects.
In addition, a tripartite summit between Egypt, Jordan and Iran took place at the end of June. This summit showed that Iraq is strengthening friendly relations between US allies in the Middle East, and the summit has been rated as “historic” and “a milestone” by US authorities.
On the Lebanon side, a fuel agreement between Iraq and Lebanon was signed last month. According to the deal, Iraq will supply 1 million tonnes of fuel oil and Lebanon will pay for it with goods and services rather than cash. Iraq will recover its debt by exchanging medical services with Lebanon.
When we consider that Iraq also maintains very strong relations with Iran, we understand why it is the most suitable country for this intermediary position. But, that doesn’t mean it will be successful. Good relations are not enough to deal with the parties. Iraq must be decisive in its internal and external affairs at the same time. Unfortunately, there are many variables in the internal affairs of Iraq. A mediator without stability will not be helpful in facilitating the process.
Iraq’s identity problem
Iraq is using its Arab identity to improve its relations with Arab countries. To be able to use this card, Iraqi nationals will have to adopt a global identity. But how close is the country to achieving this national identity?
The 2005 Constitution created a federation in Iraq. The governorates in Iraq are autonomous and autonomous, they also share the control of the government. Integrationist academics and politicians criticize this liberal system of power sharing in Iraq.
Along with integrationist ideas, many anti-sectarian protests have taken place for the creation of a comprehensive Iraqi identity. They advocate that conflicts arise from partisanship and group-based polarization. According to them, a state must be impartial and meritocratic.
They disapprove of ethnic political parties and support non-ethnic or inter-ethnic political parties. Integrationists prefer a unitary, centralized state or a federation that is not ethnically constructed. They see identities as fluid and unsustainable.
The adaptability of the Iraqi power-sharing system is low, which may violate the functionality of power-sharing and hamper the achievement of a stable and effective power-sharing democracy.
Low adoptability can lead to the exclusion and marginalization of a group from the state, leading to governance and security issues. It can also lead one or more groups to dominate other groups in politics, undermining the basis for power sharing. It sheds light on unresolved disputes over state configuration and may increase conflicting constitutional claims over time.
The transition from war to peace in states emerging from conflict has always been difficult. With the new constitution, the Iraqi power-sharing system is characterized by a lack of inter-community cooperation, stalemate and dysfunction. The new system has failed to ensure good governance for its citizens. At the center of this problem is informal consociationalism, and it has increased corruption and exclusion.
There is a growing tendency to move away from sectarian politics and a growing demand for a comprehensive Iraqi nationality. However, given the Kurds and their enduring identity, the applicability of an Iraqi identity will remain very controversial.
Under these conditions, Iraq will not easily be an effective mediator between the great powers. He would have to face his internal problems to focus more effectively on the international stage. A fully inclusive political system can help ensure functionality and political stability in Iraq, which will pave the way for Iraq’s new role in the Middle East.