Iraq — reasserting past prestige

For years on end, Iraq has been a play-yard for both regional and international actors vying for power


Arhama Siddiqa September 29, 2021
The writer is a LUMS and Warwick alumna and a Policy analyst focusing on the MENA region

History books depicting US events will now run parallels between 2021 images of Chris Donahue, the last American soldier to step off Afghan soil, and 1969 images of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon.

Even though, indubitably, events in Afghanistan are being closely monitored all across the world, there is one country in particular that has been paying close attention. The other country the US invaded post 9/11 — Iraq.

A quick look at Iraq’s socio-political panorama shows a rapidly worsening situation. This can be attributed primarily to the rampant and unremitting corruption which has completely dissolved public trust.

For years on end, Iraq has been a play-yard for both regional and international actors vying for power. But now, Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Khadhimi seems to be trying to revive his country’s past stature by engaging in facilitating regional mediation efforts, the latest attempt of which was on 28 August’s Baghdad Summit. Iraq has also been hosting multiple rounds of talks between legations from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Iraq is still enmeshed in conflict. Attacks from ISIS elements continue and there are risks of ethnic and sectarian flare-ups across the country. The Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan has raised concerns within Iraq principally due to the presence of foreign troops in the country. This is why it would not be illogical to assume that attempts by Baghdad to strengthen cooperation within the region are in fact efforts towards bringing stability to the region and as an upshot Iraq itself.

In line with its policy of reinvigoration, Iraq is increasing cooperation with non-Arab regional players as well — Pakistan being a prime example. This year alone, there have been various high-level visits including those by the foreign ministers from each side. Khadhimi is said to visit Pakistan soon as well. These visits have centred around economy, defence, trade and investment as well as enhancing people to people linkages particularly those concerning Pakistani Zaireen (pilgrims).

Pakistan and Iraq share a multidimensional relationship initially prefaced on religion — Iraq is home to the two most important shrines for Shia Muslims and about 200,000 Pakistani pilgrims travel to Iraq annually. Bilateral defence cooperation became more visible with the rise of IS in Iraq in 2014. This was further accentuated in 2017 when Iraqi sources disclosed how Pakistan had provided intelligence sharing and training in helping the Iraqi government defeat IS. Last week, Iraq placed an order for JF-17s from Pakistan and agreed on exploring further avenues of cooperation.

Time and again, Pakistan has offered to help Iraq in its reconstruction and rehabilitation through provision of technical assistance and human resource. To enhance cooperation between the people of both sides, the Pakistani government has allocated 1,000 scholarships for Iraqi students in this year. Pakistan also sent medical supplies to Iraq to help it counter Covid-19. Last March, Pakistan’s Lucky Cement commenced a joint venture with Al-Shamookh and started cement production in Iraq.

An area of mutual interest for both sides is in the realm of energy security. About 90% of Iraq’s revenues come from oil. The falling oil prices compounded by the global fiscal crunch due to the pandemic means Iraq is in acute need of digressing its oil exports. Concurrently, Pakistan which faces regular energy pitfalls provides an ideal market for Iraqi oil. Another domain for Pakistan-Iraq cooperation is if CPEC’s western passage is extended all the way to the Iraq-Iran border. This will benefit traders in Pakistan and Iraq and further help Iraq’s restructuring plans.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan-Iraq cooperation ties in well with Pakistan’s foreign policy shift from geopolitics to geo-economics, If successful, this will culminate in a mutually beneficial partnership for the entire region.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2021.

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