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Questions from the Jordan, Egypt, Iraq meeting

March 26, 2019 at 11:52 am

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and the Iraqi Prime Minister [Twitter]

The Tripartite Jordanian-Egyptian-Iraqi Summit held in Cairo raised three fundamental questions:

First: Are we trying to restore the Arab Cooperation Council, which included Yemen and these three countries in the 1980s, and ended with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait?

Second: Can Egypt and Jordan expect closer relations with Iraq in the fields of economy, trade, and energy, while relations of the two countries with Iran are tense?

Third: What are the boundaries between political and economic relations between these three parties, and can the effects of political differences be isolated from economic interests?

In answer to the first question, we say that history does not repeat itself, and anyone saying otherwise would be putting things in a context of tragedy or comedy, and I don’t think the parties believe that such a thing could happen. Iraq has an interest in diversifying its foreign relations and securing transit corridors for its abundant oil, away from the waters of the Gulf, crowded with frigates and aircraft carriers. Jordan and Egypt have deep interests with Iraq and in various fields; it is a big market, a huge source of energy and a giant reconstruction workshop, and I think that the Jordanian-Egyptian quest to approach Iraq and get close to it is an understandable and good idea and it serves the common interests of the three countries. This, in turn, gives the tripartite summit its paramount importance.

In answer to the second question we say that waiting for a breakthrough in the relations between the two countries on the one hand and with Iraq on the other, without normalising the relations of each with Iran, seems to be like Waiting for Godot. Iraq, after Saddam Hussein, and particularly after the government of Haider Al-Abadi, is getting closer to Iran, not moving away from it, and Tehran succeeded in establishing some roots for it in Mesopotamia. It is true that development of tripartite relations may occur if good intentions and plans are in place, but this development will not become a breakthrough as long as there is a state of intense hostility hovering over relations between the two Arab capitals and the Iranian capital.

READ: Egypt, Jordan and Iraq discuss ‘strengthening economic ties’

It is true that there are no bilateral problems between Amman and Cairo on one hand and Tehran on the other, but both capitals have close relations with Washington and Gulf states, and the hostility between Iran and Egyptian and Jordanian allies (the United States and the Gulf) is at its highest level. It is unlikely that any of the two capitals would sacrifice their close relations with Washington and the Gulf in favour of an emerging relationship with Iraq that is conditional to normalising with Iran.

As for the answer to the third question, we say: In many regional issues, the positions of the ruling coalition in Iraq do not meet the positions of the governments of Amman and Cairo. Just days ago, the chief of staff of the Iraqi army was in Damascus where he met with his Syrian and Iranian counterparts, in what was considered to be a sign of the strengthening of the so-called axis of resistance and opposition. Also a few days ago, a senior Iranian official was talking about 100,000 troops in Iraq whose allegiance lies with Iran and a similar number in Syria, in reference to the Popular Mobilisation Forces. In light of this, how can the political context be separated from the economic, commercial and oil context in term of relations between these countries? This is the biggest challenge that will stand in the face of the Tripartite Economic Cooperation process.

There are those who believe that the Arab rapprochement with Iraq is aimed at keeping it away from Iran, and this is true. It is also a position supported by the United States, which sees that it needs allies in Iraq to contain Iranian influence. For this reason, the rapprochement process maybe stalled as it is raising Iranian concerns.

READ: 74% of Arabs support establishment of democratic regime in their countries

Some Iraqis are talking about a new role for post-Saddam Iraq, a role of bridging between Iran and the Arabs, having played the role of a barrier in the face of Iran’s expansionist ambitions in the past. Even if we believe this simplified description of the new Iraqi role, the bridge theory assumes two sides, one in Iran, through which Iran crosses towards the Arab world, and another side in the Arab world, through which Arabs move towards Iran.

Do Washington and some Arabs want to facilitate this mutual transit process? Do they want to build this bridge, or do they want to go back to rebuilding barriers that collapsed in 2003?

This article first appeared in Arabi21 on 25 March 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.