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Will Iraq be the next to jump on the normalisation bandwagon?

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meets US President Donald J. Trump at the White House during his official visit in Washington, United States on August 21, 2020 [Iraqi Prime Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency]
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meets US President Donald J. Trump at the White House during his official visit in Washington, United States on August 21, 2020 [Iraqi Prime Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency]

It seems that the normalisation bandwagon that took off recently from Abu Dhabi is not far from passing through Baghdad. Despite the bleak picture in Iraq, and the regional and international conflicts that control many aspects of its own situation, a careful reading of the details can lead us to conclude that Iraqi normalisation with the occupation state may well be next in line.

Iraq is the only country beyond its immediate neighbours that has engaged in direct fighting with Israel, and perhaps even the only state whose missiles have hit Tel Aviv, after more than a decade of silence since the signing of peace agreements. This was in 1991 when Iraq launched its long-range missiles at the settler-colonial occupier. I believe that this was the main reason why the government was subsequently toppled and Iraq was occupied.

The UAE normalise ties with Israel - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The UAE normalise ties with Israel – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

More important than the controversies of the past, in today's Iraq led by parties and politico-religious forces loyal to Iran a massive campaign against Abu Dhabi has been launched following its normalisation deal with Israel. One parliamentarian has even called for the name of Sheikh Zayed Hospital to be changed because of this. However, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi returned from Washington after a visit described in the US as successful and declared that the UAE's actions are a domestic issue in which Iraq should not interfere. Sources close to him said that he may visit the UAE soon, ignoring national and regional condemnation of the Emirati normalisation decision.

To complete the scene, after Al-Kadhimi returned from the US, Amman was scheduled to host a tripartite summit between the Iraqi leader, Jordan's King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. It was described as a prelude to revealing the "New Levant", a project Al-Kadhimi announced in Washington. This seems to be an American project that was presented previously to Al-Kadhimi's predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who attended a similar summit about a year ago. However, it seems that he was not keen on the project or, to be more precise, Iran was not keen on it, because it is aware of the goals of any Arab breach of its separation wall in Iraq.

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The "New Levant" includes the two Arab countries which normalised relations with Israel before any others, Egypt and Jordan. The name of the project, which was unknown before Al-Kadhimi's statement to the Washington Post, has left many questions unanswered, not least what the nature of the cooperation between this Arab trio actually is. And is it really an attempt to restore the economic conditions in the three countries through the integration of different portfolios or their hidden aspects? We cannot in any case isolate this summit from the course of events in the region today, including the UAE's normalisation with Israel and the lack of any official objection or condemnation from Baghdad. There is also Al-Kadhimi's visit to Washington, in which he was said to have received American support that no other former Iraqi official has received, which may have allowed him to make changes to the leadership of the armed forces. This was once considered to be a red line because of the senior officers' affiliation with one party or another.

The general belief in Iraq, particularly among ordinary citizens, is that the Israeli occupation state is a usurper and normalisation in any form should not happen. However, this alone will not be sufficient to stand in the way of any decision about the process, especially if there are US promises to provide support for Al-Kadhimi's government necessary to save Iraq from the clutches of a non-state actor represented by Iranian-backed armed groups, and even political forces.

It will not be easy for Iraq to have normalised relations with Israel and so the move will possibly be postponed. However, it is not impossible. We have to remember that there have been many reports in the past about visits by Iraqi MPs to Israel, which they have denied, of course.

OPINION: Further Arab normalisation with Israel is waiting in the wings

Today, Iraq is an open arena for conflict between the US and Iran, wherein interests overlap, intersect and intertwine. The outcome of this conflict will determine, to a large extent, Iraq's bearings, not only on whether or not it will have relations with Israel, but also regarding its relations with neighbouring Arab countries which seem to be encouraging Baghdad to jump on the normalisation bandwagon. Saudi Arabia, which will be Al-Kadhimi's next foreign destination in a few days, may also push Iraq in this direction, even if it hasn't yet taken the step itself.

If the US actually manages to contain Iran's influence in Iraq, as it claims, this would be in exchange for normalisation with Israel. Like it or not, the ballot boxes are capable of bringing in parties that will justify such treason.

With deal, UAE abandons Palestinian struggle - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

With deal, UAE abandons Palestinian struggle – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

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

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