Baghdad/National News Center
The last quarter of 2021 seems pivotal for Iraq, due to internal and external entitlements that put the government and political forces to the test of the “state”, starting with the elections of the tenth of October (October) all the way to the complete withdrawal of US combat forces at the end of the year, according to the US-Iraqi agreement Announced after the fourth round of the strategic dialogue between the two parties.
The "Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership", which was held in the Iraqi capital on August 28, with the participation of nine Arab and foreign countries and regional and international organizations, came to put Iraq before a new challenge regarding its ability to achieve a fundamental breach in regional tensions, especially between its two rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran, after it succeeded in bringing them together. To the dialogue table witnessed so far four rounds.
To what extent can Iraq go in its regional endeavors in light of numerous internal and external obstacles? And any fears raised by the withdrawal of US combat forces from the possibility that Iraq will pay the price of a new struggle to fill the void that could be created by that withdrawal?
In a press interview, at his residence in a New York hotel, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein talked about the most prominent files related to the exit of US forces, as well as mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tension.
Is there seriousness to achieve actual progress to end the tensions, especially between Saudi Arabia and Iran, or are the Baghdad conference and before it the dialogues between the two parties just steps to calm the atmosphere without achieving serious breaches?
Hussein answers that “there is certainly seriousness. The mere transition from a state of tension and conflict to a state of meeting, dialogue and communication is a serious matter. And now the fourth round of the Saudi-Iranian dialogue has ended in Baghdad.” He points out that Baghdad's efforts are not limited to Saudi-Iranian relations: “There is also seriousness in communication between other Arab countries and Turkey and Iran. Iraq played this role and brought everyone to one table, and this is in its interest and the interest of the region,” referring to efforts to bring Egypt and Turkey closer together, as well as between the parties to the Gulf crisis.
But is Iraq just a mediator, or is it a partner that presents ideas to both sides of the Saudi-Iranian dialogue?
The head of Iraqi diplomacy says insistently that "Iraq is the owner of the basic ideas and initiatives and plays a pivotal role in this field to build relations and reduce tension." And whether Iraq is doing this as a defensive step to ward off the repercussions of regional differences on it or as an “offensive” step to announce its transformation from an arena of conflict to an influential player, Fouad Hussein answers: “We are in an interactive position, and I do not hide from you a secret that a large part of the internal Iraqi conflicts are related to conflicts Regional, so to manage the conflict at home we need to manage the conflict on the borders. From this standpoint, we began to initiate and put forward ideas. The starting point is Iraqi, but the goal is the regional environment.
“Returning the decision-making process to Baghdad,”
but researchers and experts warn against over-imagining an effective regional role for Iraq in light of its internal divisions and external influences, as they see that Iran seeks to fill any potential vacuum left by the American withdrawal, in addition to its current broad influence and influence on the Iraqi decision. In contrast, the intensification of Arab countries’ presence in Iraq aims mainly, according to their perception, to “restore it to its Arab depth” and “disengage” it from Iran.
The Iraqi foreign minister comments on this with a mixture of ambition and acknowledgment of reality: “Iraqi politics is determined by Iraqis. In which direction are we moving? This is an Iraqi issue and an Iraqi industry. Part of what we do in finding a balance in the relations between the surrounding countries is to bring the decision-making back to Baghdad. The Iraqi decision-making should be in Baghdad. The breach of sovereignty is not only when a particular country attacks Iraqi territory, but the serious breach of sovereignty is the hijacking of the Iraqi decision. Protecting the decision-making process is the basis for building full Iraqi sovereignty.”
Does he acknowledge that the Iraqi sovereign decision is currently under pressure?
He answers: “Yes, he is exposed… In politics, I deal with reality, not with imagination. When we talk about finding a state of balance, principles of non-interference and adherence to international law, this means that we seek to withdraw the entire Iraqi decision to Baghdad. This means that there are gaps in the Iraqi decision, it is true. But we are moving quickly in the right direction through these activities and explicit proposals, building internal strength and managing conflict internally and regionally.”
Do these Iraqi moves bother anyone, even if he is one of the parties involved in them?
“I don't feel that it bothers anyone," Hussein says. Iran and Saudi Arabia are comfortable with this Iraqi role? He comments: “Maybe they are uncomfortable for other reasons, but everyone feels that stability in Iraq should exist because it leads to stability in their countries.”
The American withdrawal and the “truce” of the factions: any guarantees?
The Iraqi foreign minister says that “any targeting of anyone in Iraq is not acceptable, because the Iraqi government is responsible for dialogue with the American side, and dialogue through arms with any other side is not possible, especially inside Iraq. We condemn any attack on any Iraqi state, so how can we accept attacks from inside Iraq on the Iraqi interior? This is unacceptable,” he added, “but dialogues are continuing with the various parties to calm things down.” And what about the armistice? “The armistice is between the government and who? The government is responsible. But some factions have announced a truce now with the concept of not attacking the American sites until the implementation of the agreement between the Iraqi and American sides,” stressing that matters related to withdrawal procedures are moving in the right direction agreed upon in the fourth round of the strategic dialogue.
And about the impact of the role of the factions on the Iraqi talks with Arab parties regarding the Iranian role, he says: “We proceed from the Iraqi perspective, which means that the government has the duty to deal with the political forces present in all of the Iraqi arena, including those who disagree with the government’s position, and this is normal. But for the political situation to turn into violence, this is unacceptable.”
Iraq is strengthening its regional understandings in the context of the tripartite cooperation that brings together with Egypt and Jordan, and the leaders of the three countries have gathered several summits to strengthen what looks like a middle alliance between the two axes of the regional conflict, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The tripartite Iraqi-Egyptian-Jordanian cooperation includes security and economic fields in addition to coordination in political positions, according to Hussein.
The struggle to fill the void after withdrawal
But are there fears of a conflict between regional or international powers to fill the American vacuum in Iraq after the withdrawal?
Hussein answers: “The vacuum will be filled by the Iraqi people and the armed forces and the forces supporting them. I do not imagine that there will be a security vacuum. It is true that terrorists are still present in Iraq, but the terrorist organizations cannot be compared now with previous years, and we still have extensive relations with the international coalition against terrorism.”
The Afghan experience worried you while you were thinking about the post-withdrawal stage?
“We are concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and the Afghan people, after they have been subjected to attacks, wars and internal and external fighting,” Hussein says. He adds: “What happened in Afghanistan affects the regional environment. We must not forget that terrorists and “Afghan Arabs” were in Afghanistan, and many of them returned to their countries, including Iraq, and led terrorist organizations. Afghanistan as a symbol that affects the political and security situation in various countries and in this context has become an inspiration for terrorist organizations, as most of the leaders of “Al-Qaeda” and “ISIS” trained in Afghanistan.
The growing French role in Iraq
Is this strong French presence part of a strategy to fill an essential part of the potential vacuum after the American withdrawal?
With all of the above about a prominent and different French presence in Iraq, politically and economically and within the framework of the international coalition to combat terrorism, the Iraqi Foreign Minister does not like to talk about a distinct position for French policy in his country. Hussein says: “We have good relations with strong European countries, whether Britain, France or Germany, and in general our relations with the European Union are strong. We are not talking about the growing French presence, but about the strong relations between Iraq and the European Union, and of course France plays an important role in it, especially after Britain's exit from it. France is an important country and we welcome its role, the British role and the German role as well. In our foreign relations, we rely on balance.”
Towards a “single reference” in Iran for the Iraqi file?
In his speech, the Iraqi foreign minister avoids addressing the Iranian “wings conflict” on the Iraqi arena in the past years, and does not confirm whether he heard during his recent visits to Tehran with the President of the Republic and then with the Prime Minister about this tendency to limit the Iraqi file to a single reference in Tehran. He says: “The new administration in Iran presents its ideas and we interact with these ideas, and we will see. What we see from the new Iranian administration is that they present serious ideas and deal with the Iraqi side in a serious manner, and declare that they are with the independence of the Iraqi decision and with the sovereignty of Iraq. What we need as Iraqis and what we say to everyone: Iraq must be treated as a country. We are not any country’s back garden.”
But there are those who think that this is what you want, while the reality is different. Hussein answers: “We are working for this and our steps are clear, and we see progress in this direction every day. The Baghdad conference meeting is evidence of that and an important step. Everyone in Baghdad, from the contradictory or conflicting forces, stresses that it is important to deal with Iraq as a sovereign state in whose hands it has decision-making and decision-making.
Commenting on an Iranian official’s threats to target groups opposed to Iran on Iraqi soil, he asserts that Baghdad “completely rejects the use of Iraqi territory to attack any country,” without explaining how Iraq will handle the possibility of Iran carrying out military operations on its territory without permission or coordination, leaving the matter for talks with Iranian side.
Turkey and the PKK crisis
There is a similar problem as well with Turkey, which carries out from time to time operations against PKK positions in northern Iraq. In this context, the Iraqi Foreign Minister says: “Iraqi-Turkish relations are important, but there are problems. Turkey always talks about the presence of PKK forces in Iraq and in Iraqi Kurdistan. We have a question that the Iraqi constitution does not allow - and we do not allow as politicians - for any organization to use Iraqi territory to attack neighboring countries. This is a constitutional issue that we must abide by. However, the Iraqi security conditions and the political situation led to the entry of forces from different parties and parties into Iraqi territory, and Turkey uses the presence of the PKK as an excuse to attack it. But in terms of international law, does Turkey have the right to enter Iraqi territory with this pretext? This is a contentious issue. But with Turkey, we have no alternative but to dialogue because it is an important neighbor and friend, and this dialogue, which is not limited to security issues, has begun. We met here President (Turkish Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, who pointed out that trade relations amounted to twenty billion dollars, and I will be frank: the majority of this amount is for the benefit of the Turkish side, as well as trade relations with neighboring Iran between 12 billion to 14 billion dollars, and also for the benefit of Iran. We have to strike a balance in trade relations. We are not satisfied with the presence of armed partisan forces attacking Turkey or Iran, but the Iraqi security situation does not help solve this Iraqi problem.”
Relations with Syria: “We support stability, not the regime.”
About this file, Fouad Hussein says: “I met here for the first time with the Syrian Foreign Minister. Iraq's position is clear. We did not cut diplomatic relations with Syria, and we have always called, as the Iraqi government, to deal with the Syrian situation differently. We see that stability in Syria also means some kind of stability in Iraq, because ISIS gangs are moving in the two countries. We need stability in Syria for the sake of the Syrians first, as well as for the interest of Iraq. Therefore, in all our meetings at the level of the League of Arab States and international meetings, we say that we need another way to deal with the Syrian issue,” stressing that Iraq has always called for Syria to be returned to its seat in the League.
In response to the statement that Baghdad supported the Syrian regime for fear of the collapse of the regime in Iraq, he said: "We did not support the Syrian regime, but rather stability in Syria, but stability cannot be achieved without the presence of the representative of the Syrian government in the Arab League."
Regarding the Lebanon file, Hussein is satisfied with talking about his satisfaction with the formation of the new Lebanese government and its obtaining the confidence of the House of Representatives, recalling that Iraq “helped the Lebanese people in various ways in many stages, especially through the agreement regarding oil and services. We are interacting with Lebanon and are ready to cooperate with the new government for the benefit of both parties.”
Elections and the “Re-establishment of Democracy” in Iraq
On the tenth of October, Iraq is witnessing parliamentary elections that President Saleh described in his speech to the United Nations as “fateful,” and Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein describes them as “a pivotal one.” The reason is remarkable: “These elections are pivotal, and they are not only for selecting members of Parliament, but These are elections in order to build democracy in Iraq and the future fate of Iraq. If we succeed in these elections, especially in the field of promoting integrity and transparency under international supervision, I can say that the democratic system will be well established.”
Are you talking about building and establishing a democratic system 18 years after the fall of the previous regime? He answers: “Yes. What I'm talking about is the re-establishment of democracy in Iraq."
How can fair elections be guaranteed in light of threats against activists, which led to the reluctance of parties affiliated with the “October Revolution” to participate?
He says: “The overwhelming majority of the political forces participate in the elections, and there are those among them who speak on behalf of the Tishreen youth.”
What about the presence of forces stronger than the government?
The foreign minister answers: “The government is strong in Iraq and it is not correct to say that there are forces that are stronger than the government, but there are forces that can create problems. Creating problems does not mean that they are strong.”