By Yoel Guzansky
Enervation of traditional Arab centers in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, the relative improvement in the internal security situation and considerable increase in the oil production in Iraq – all these contribute to the capability of the leadership in Baghdad to get back to a more significant role in managing the regional agenda.
Translated by Viktoria LymarEdited by Steven Stenzler
13 November 2012
Iraq wants to return to a central role in the Arab territories. The developments in the region and the growth in oil production there increase the chances of that happening.
Since the withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq, Baghdad has been strengthening its ties with the Arab world and trying to remove the image that stuck to it, according to which it operates under the guidance of Iran. Among other things, there began a series of moves intended to try to restore the balance of Iraq's foreign relations, revive old alliances and initiate economic ventures.
In parallel, the Arab neighbors of Iraq, who abstained in the last years from tightening relations with it because of its connections with Iran, now realize more than ever that it is exactly through improved political and economic relations with it that they can impact the character and extent of the Iranian influence within it.
In the recent years, Iraq's neighbors treated it as an alien, an Iranian terror proxy better to shun. The isolation of Iraq has been largely imposed on it by its Arab neighbors, – yet, it was also being passive over the past years in its foreign relations due to its inherent weakness and internal division, which was expressed in the absence of consensus among the main political forces. But it seems that now, more than ever, it is seeking for itself a more prominent role in running the inter-Arab and Arab-Iranian agenda.
The Arab space left Iraq at the mercy of Iran, but today, Iraq's neighbors are no longer holding the position of passive viewers. It seems that after the withdrawal of the U.S. forces, there’s a certain Arab willingness to deepen relations with Iraq and this way, to enhance the monitoring of the happenings there – first and foremost, in order to try and contain the influence of Iran. Iraq, for its part, wants to strengthen cooperation with the Arab states, among other things, as a way to lead to clearing some of the debts of the past, to resuming investments in it, to preventing the negative (Arab) interference in its internal affairs – and even as certain leverage of pressure on Tehran.
The sectarian tensions in Iraq are exacerbating, the violence is still threatening. And yet, despite these problems, oil production in Iraq is on the rise. As Iraq's coffers are getting filled, so it’s going to be less affected by external factors. Over time, Iraq and Iran are likely to move towards a renewed equilibrium which would contribute to the ability to balance the power of Iran in the [Arab] territory.
However, this also depends on the nature of the Iraqi regime and the identity of the one at its helm, which now looks like it is drifting towards a concentration of power, and may actually strengthen Iran’s control over the goings-on in Iraq. It also depends on the developments in Syria and the future of the Assad regime. The closeness, even if artificial, of the Alawite regime to Shias and the prospect that with its downfall, the Sunni majority will take the reins of government – could distance Syria from Iraq. In this situation, Iran might try to tighten its grip on Iraq, as a sort of substitute for the Assad regime.
After two decades of absence, Iraq aims to play again a key role in the Arab lands. The enervation of traditional Arab centers in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’, the relative improvement in the internal security situation and the considerable increase in the oil production in Iraq – all these contribute to the capability of the leadership in Baghdad to get back to a more significant role in managing the regional agenda.
Nonetheless, the mostly Sunni Arab region still finds it difficult to abandon the basic identities defining it – in the first place, the ethnic identity, and its supreme interest: curbing Iran's regional ambitions. These are issues affecting Iraq's regional status, however, its stability and territorial integrity as well.
The writer is a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies. This article was summarized from a study on the subject matter conducted for the Institute .
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