As regional and international powers vie to expand their influence in the Middle East and the drums of an imminent war continue to echo here and there, the ambassador of a European country and I discussed Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani’s announcement that the international coalition forces should leave Iraq. “What is Iraq’s ultimate objective?” he asked me.
While it is a simple question, its answer is consequential and deserves clarification. We should explain our position to both the ambassador and the international community, as well as our people, as Iraqis are asking the same question themselves.
The goal may be clear and straightforward, but escalation by this party or that complicates things. Iraq is certainly striving to avoid entanglement in a conflict imposed by another party. Indeed, becoming embroiled in yet another conflict undermines peace and stability in the present and the future. Iraq is keen on taking care of its citizens, who have been exhausted by such wars. We want to safeguard their security, improve basic services, rebuild infrastructure, and invest in our human and natural resources to build a promising future for Iraqis.
To this end, Iraq must break out of the cycle of regional and international conflicts and the military presence established to combat ISIS, as the Prime Minister believes that “ISIS no longer represents a threat to the Iraqi state.”
Over the past forty years, Iraq has been devastated by a series of wars, starting with the Iran-Iraq War, which was followed by the Gulf Wars, the war to bring down the regime, and most recently, the war against ISIS. These wars have left destruction, ruin, suffering, and calamities in their wake, and Iraq went from being one of the strongest countries in the region to one of the weakest. Its wealth has been eroded, and it now owes hundreds of billions to various regional and global countries. Its infrastructure and its military, industrial, and agricultural capacities have collapsed. Over a quarter of its population lives in poverty, unemployment has soared, and educational, health and other basic services crumbled. Most importantly, the human loss of life, the number of youths, children, and women we have lost, is horrific.
Despite the heavy burden left by this legacy, the current government led by Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani has taken on the responsibility of rebuilding the state and set out an ambitious program. However, it finds itself caught in regional and international conflict, and the various warring parties are indifferent to Iraq's interests. They are focused solely on their own, and they have neglected the challenges facing the country. The situation in Iraq was exacerbated further by the events of October in Gaza.
The government is determined to achieve its goals, and it cannot do so if Iraq remains a battleground and its security remains precarious. Violent developments threaten a larger and more extensive war than the one at hand, and putting the brakes on this war requires action on multiple fronts and in various directions:
First: Enhancing and developing bilateral relations with the countries of the international coalition in a manner that serves Iraq, aligns with the needs of the Iraqi state, and serves our mutual interests. The statement released following the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Secretary-General of NATO in Davos reflects our intention to make this happen. "Iraq does not object to cooperating with NATO countries in the fields of armament, training, and equipping, within the framework of the bilateral relations between Iraq and the countries of this alliance."
Second: Distancing Iraq from the conflict. Iraq does not want to be a party to regional conflicts, but rather aims to maintain an equal distance with all countries, especially those involved in the conflict. Iraq considers both Iran and the United States to be strategic partners and cannot be a party to their regional disputes. Their conflict can be seen in Syria. Iran needs air and land corridors to reach Syria, while the United States needs to use Iraqi territory to support its forces in Syria. However, both can find alternative ways to further their interests and plans, be it in Syria or other hotspots, without implicating Iraq in the ongoing conflict.
Third: Strengthening Iraq on the regional and international stage. Iraq cannot be subordinate to anyone, nor can be any party’s backyard. Iraq has many strengths conducive to playing a pivotal role in global politics and diplomacy. It is crucial for global energy markets and it has a strategic location in the Middle East. Iraq is also the only Arab state with strong ties to all neighboring countries and major powers, both in the East and West, and it is particularly significant for the fight against terrorism.
Fourth: Furthering our mutual interests with the countries of the region and the international community as Iraq strives to rebuild its state and infrastructure. It has the resources and material capabilities to offer strategic projects that countries and corporations can benefit from, whether directly or indirectly.
Fifth: No forces have more experience in combating terrorism, especially ISIS, than Iraq’s. These forces have fought the most dangerous and fiercest terrorist organizations, engaged in intense urban warfare, and achieved remarkable victories, demonstrating unparalleled bravery. The international community can benefit from Iraq’s experience in combating the most formidable terrorist organizations and cells.
Ending the state of war is a priority for the Iraqi state. To answer the ambassador's question, Iraq seeks stability and prosperity by all possible means. It has all the requisites needed to do so for its people, given its wealth of natural resources and human capital, and its strategic location.
The Iraqi people have suffered immensely for decades. The time has come for them to live in peace, and the government’s program will ensure that this happens very soon. Moreover, the Prime Minister is determined to realize the ultimate aspirations and legitimate expectations of the Iraqi people. We must always remember that opportunities usually come only once, and this is a crucial opportunity for partners and friendly countries. They should remember that the stability and prosperity of Iraq are key to the political stability, security, and economic prosperity of the region.