Eyad Abu Shakra

The Baghdad Summit and Iraq’s Regional Role

Nothing in my life fills me with shame more than the fact that I have never visited Iraq!

This is a cause of sadness, pain, regret and unrivalled sense of loss; and why not, if Iraq was part of me and my family’s history even before I was born.

Impressed by Iraq (where he lived for 10 years), its history and great personalities, my father honored me with my name, and I did the same giving my son an “Iraqi” name.

It has always been the home and refuge that honored visitors and sheltered foreigners. It has done that despite all its astounding contradictions between cruelty and tenderness, acute conflicts and generosity of spirit, tough times and times of comfort and abundance, politics of “cancellation” and the aura and fragrance of art, civilization, intellectuality and distinction.

It is simply Iraq… which is an honor enough.

Iraq has left its indelible fingerprints on human history since the glory of Ur, Hammurabi’s first code of laws, succeeding states and conquests which would make Baghdad the world’s “first global capital”.

Baghdad became the world’s first multi-cultural and multi-lingual metropolis, in whose streets, alleys, libraries and scroll shops thrived several of the Old World’s languages.

It was also the birthplace of one of the world’s greatest waves of translation and cultural exchange between East and West, and the arena for intellectual debates, and unrivalled interpretation of religious and philosophical texts.

On the other hand, despite its unique status as the world’s first global capital, Baghdad never eclipsed the roles of other Iraqi cultural and political bastions like Babylon (today’s Al-Hillah), Al-Hira, Al-Kufah, Basra, Nineveh (Mosul), Erbil, and Al-Anbar throughout the centuries.

In 1920 modern Iraq was created, and as is the case throughout the Near East, the cradle of the Old World’s civilizations, the newly-drawn border lines have developed loyalties, identities, conflicts and ambitions that have remains strong. They have separated peoples and tribes on either side of the new entities, while bringing together diverse peoples in uneasy marriages imposed by the major foreign interests of others.

Furthermore, if we today infrequently recall the Ottoman-Safavid rivalry that erupted in the 16th century BC - especially, its politico-sectarian repercussions - we find ourselves lost in several dilemmas, such as:

- The post-1920 partition map of the Near East.

- The cross-border theocracies.

- Distinguishing between the acceptance of historical injustices and agreeing on a “common destiny”.

- The priority of the “state of citizenship”.

- The “right of self-determination” based on nationalist, ethnic and linguistic confessed identities.

Iraq, with its ever-pulsating heart, has lived through all times and experienced all forms of agreements and conflicts; shedding blood, losing lives and wasting huge resources and treasures.

The year 1920, when the new Iraq was born, ushered the birth of a “New World Order”, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, while Iraq’s communities coexisted peacefully.

The Shiites of the south lived in harmony with the Sunnis of the middle Euphrates in the west, as did the Kurds, Turkmen, Arab Muslims and Christians (Nestorian and Jacobites) in the north bordering Iran and Turkey, without forgetting the descendants of the Mandaen culture living on the riverbanks of the south east.

This impressive cultural blend, actually, lived in peace and harmony even as the world political order was sliding toward new global conflicts, and soon enough, reached WW2.

In fact between 1920 and 1939 the Iraqi “experiment” succeeded in organizing and managing diversity; and after the discovery and exploitation of oil the all important post of minister of finance was entrusted to Sassoon Eskell (a Jew), Yousef Ghanima (a Chaldean Christian) and Rustum Haidar (a Lebanese-born Shiite). More prominent Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian personalities occupied several senior ministerial and military positions, including Jalal Baban, Jamal Baban, Ahmad Mukhtar Baban. Bakr Sidqi, Nur al-Din Mahmud and Rufail Butti.

Alas, this was not destined to continue, when conflicting international interests sowed the seed of internal strife. Nazi Germany soon managed to turn Baghdad into a hub of its regional activities spearheaded by its ambassador Dr. Fritz Grobba.

At that time, Grobba orchestrated anti-British policies - which were not helped by the Balfour Declaration -, encouraging Arab nationalist aspirations and activists. As a result, the Arabist anti-British trend eventually permeated the Iraqi army through four nationalist influential young colonels nicknamed as the “Golden Square”.

However, the crushing of the Arab nationalist Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in 1941 was a landmark in deepening the national rift in the country; which worsened throughout the 1950s against the background of the Cold War, when Iraq became a founding member of the Baghdad Pact under an Anglo-American leadership.

Bearing all the hallmarks of foreign intervention and internal unease, this scenario, reached the boiling point with the republican July Revolt of 1958 which overthrew the monarchy. This revolt brought Iraq out of the pro-West pact, and marked the lengthy conflicts between the Nationalist (including the Nasserists, Arab Nationalists and Baathists) and the Communists; as well as between the central government and the dissatisfied Kurds led by Mulla Mustafa Barzani.

Consequently, as Iraqi politics became imbued with blood, the conflict between Baghdad and the Kurds became a fully-fledged open war, while ill-intentions between the Shiites and Sunnis deteriorated into a simmering hidden war. Then, after the US militarily brought down the Baath regime, Khomeinist Iran comfortably dominated Iraq, resurrecting old Anti-Arab loyalties under a modern sectarian guise.

Back to the present, through the Baghdad Cooperation and Partnership Summit, and international help, Iraq is hoping to regain its former rightful Arab and regional status. However, the countries whose help is hoped for seem to be unwilling to come clean about what Iraq really needs. As is the case with Syria and Lebanon – as well as Yemen –, these countries are neither pin pointing where the responsibility lies, nor identify the culprit. This specifically applies to the US which is in a hurry to withdraw its troops from Iraq, and France whose President Emmanuel Macron personally attended the Summit.

The reality is that there can be no proper treatment before identifying the core problem. No recovery would result from partial solutions that intentionally ignore the culprits, while rushing towards elections as if real democracy could be achieved in the shadow of an armed militia with foreign affiliations.

Still, on a positive note, one hopes that the summit would provide an opportunity to ease inter-Arab tensions. This is a necessary step in containing the rampant foreign exploitation, by the non-Arab regional trio of Iran, Israel, and Turkey that the major global powers are continuously appeasing.