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When Iraq Returns

When Iraq Returns

Monday, 30 August, 2021 - 07:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Iraq that hosted the Cooperation and Partnership summit two days ago is definitely not the same Iraq that hosted the Arab summit in 2012. Many things have changed in Iraq and its surrounding and the world since then.

The most important change, however, took place in Baghdad where a calm and bold operation aimed at returning Iraq to Iraq has started. Coincidence would have it that Saturday’s summit was held in Baghdad at a time when America was scrambling to leave Kabul, underscoring the need to ease regional tensions.

Those who witnessed the thorny years that followed the American invasion of Iraq and later the ISIS invasion of some its territories are aware of the dangers that were threatening this country. Years ago, we often heard that Iraq was mired in an inescapable swamp and that war was part of its nature. We also heard that the Kurds’ stay in the federal Iraq would not last long - in spite of the stipulations of the constitution – and that they would choose to quit the “sick” Iraq.

Years before that, some used to say that the massive American machine had descended on Baghdad and Iraq would remain in its orbit for long decades to come. Others would say that the characteristics of the Iraqi state were being erased in favor of direct Iranian interests that were concealed by the factions.

They feared the American Iraq, but soon sighed in relief when it became apparent that the American influence had quit the country before its soldiers did. Those who surrendered their fate to the Iranian Iraq recently began to realize that such an Iraq does not appeal to its people and is not acceptable in the region and unwelcome in the world.

In return, it became apparent that Iraq had nothing to gain from slipping into antagonizing America. The same reasoning also noted that it had nothing to gain from antagonizing Iran and reviving all painful memories. The conviction grew that an American Iraq would cause problems, rather than lead to solutions. An Iranian Iraq would also lead to long-term conflicts that would dash stability and prosperity.

Amid these convictions that were confirmed by costly experiences, a new project began to take shape in the past year. This project would be based on restoring the Iraqi Iraq without it being recruited as a soldier for this or that camp. Iraq, which had suffered dearly from conflicts on its territories, especially the Iranian-American clash, started to dream of becoming the land of dialogue between regional people and between these people and major powers that are present in the region.

And so began to emerge the equation that is based on coexistence, moderation, the state and its institutions, dialogue and respecting sovereignty and mutual foreign interests, rather than the mentality that is based on dictates and coercion. Iraqi officials have shown a definite desire to limit any foreign influence in favor of the Iraqi state, rather than the de facto forces.

The Iraqi state institutions must restore their credibility before the citizens, as well as the world. The world cannot trust a state, whose voice is usurped by factions, some of which wield ready to use rockets and guns equipped with silencers to hunt down activists. Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi had no choice but to stick to the weapon of patience and insistence to wage a long duel between the mentality of the state and mentality of the factions. He was backed by the Iraqi people’s yearning for the state and the people of Kurdistan and world’s sensing that the return of the Iraqi Iraq is an Iraqi, regional and international necessity.

The characteristics of the “new Iraq” were clear in the speeches and statements of Barham Salih and Mustafa al-Kadhimi. The state. The constitution. The institutions. Respecting the will of voters. Sovereignty of Iraq. Refusal to allow Iraq to be an arena for the wars of others. Refusal for Iraq to be a source of threats to its neighbors. Refusal to become dragged into axes. Iraq’s desire to build bridges in all sides. Its desire to be a land of dialogue, not an arena for conflict.

No one can claim that the picture is rosy and that the mission is accomplished. But we can say that Iraq has managed to make strides in rebuilding its ties with the Kurdish region and beyond its borders. Syria, for example, has not managed to do this. Lebanon also appears in no way ready to do so because of the absolute coma of its ruling authority that is preoccupied with cosmetic solutions while the country hurtles towards the fire.

It would be too soon to say that the “new Iraq” has won the battle. Some sides still insist on dealing with the “Iraqi scene” rather than the Iraqi state. Scenes mean unchecked weapons, assassinations, the bullying of the state and division of maps. Despite the hurdles ahead, including the upcoming elections, Iraq continues to improve its image on the internal scene and beyond.

With the “new Iraq” in mind, Baghdad hosted the Cooperation and Partnership summit that brought together neighboring countries and others. Iraq managed to bring together rivals under the same roof. It encouraged them to hold dialogue so that they would become competitors rather than enemies.

The atmosphere allowed for Arab-Arab meetings that would have seemed impossible a year ago. Iraq struck a diplomatic coup when it mediated contacts between Saudi Arabia and Iran and later hosted officials from both countries. It is no exaggeration to say that the summit was significant due to its setting, level of participation and the side meetings that were held.

The “breach” of protocol by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was just another reason for the need to hold the summit, whether indeed it was a gaffe or whether he was seeking to deliver a message that was dismissed as a gaffe.

The Iraqi people have the right to see the return of the Iraqi Iraq. The same goes for Syria. The same can be said of Lebanon and Yemen. The region is tired of infiltrated arenas and small armies. The state alone can provide stability and the opportunity for prosperity.

Two decades ago, Baghdad was on the precipice of a cycle of collapse. The Arab world is hoping that the return of Iraq would lead to different days in neighboring countries and beyond. The return of Iraq to its home and fold would definitely restore a measure of balance that had been thrown off by its absence.

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