Time is right for Gulf states to rethink approach to Iraq

Hassan Hassan writes: For the Arab Gulf states, the war that began in 2003 was the herald of a new relationship with Iraq, a country that had long been ruled by a hostile regime, threatened its neighbours and had briefly subjugated one of them – Kuwait.

But 10 years after the US-led invasion, the picture in Baghdad looks extremely bleak from this side of the Gulf. An Iraq dominated by the pro-Iranian Shia is seen as just as threatening as an Iraq led by the Sunni Saddam Hussein.The mantra in the Gulf is that Baghdad has been handed over to the Iranians on a golden plate. Some even perceive Baghdad’s special relationship with Iran as part of a US grand strategy to pit the countries of the region against each other. Such self-defeating thinking is one reason why Baghdad has been drifting towards Tehran. It is time for the Gulf states to revisit their approach to Iraq.

Gulf states do not welcome the fact that Baghdad will probably always be dominated by Shia politicians. For them, the question is how to subdue Iraq, rather than how to work with it. They also tend to view Iraq’s relationship with Iran through a zero-sum mindset: Baghdad can either be an ally against Iran, or it can be an enemy.

Riyadh does not have meaningful diplomatic representation in Baghdad, despite repeated Iraqi attempts to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf at large. For example, at the beginning of trouble in Syria, Iraq supported almost all Gulf-led Arab resolutions against the Syrian regime; it began to show opposition after the Arab Summit in Baghdad in March of last year, to which few Gulf states sent high-level representation. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have not tried hard enough to resolve outstanding disputes with Iraq, involving borders and prisoners. The Arar border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is still closed, although Riyadh promised last year to open it for trade.

The key to better relationships is, counterintuitively, a stronger and more stable Iraq. Saudi Arabia, in particular, has long sought to weaken Iraq to ensure its own regional standing. Since the Iraq war, Riyadh’s policy has evolved into attempts to contain Baghdad and push it away from Tehran. [Continue reading…]

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