It is a general idea that the League of Arab States was founded upon a British initiative at the time of the World War II in order to create a union of Arab countries that would be resistant to other alien countries. It was founded in March 1945 by the seven founding members: Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Besides the founding states, the Arab League includes Sudan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Kuwait, Algeria, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Somalia, Mauritania, Palestine, Comoros, and Djibouti. Iraq, as a founding state of the Arab League, is a leading actor in the political and economic arena of the Arab League states. Therefore, it is crucial to discuss the bilateral relations of Iraq with the other Arab League countries. Accordingly, this paper seeks to analyze bilateral relations of Iraq and other Arab League states, discuss their historical development, and estimate either their success or failure.
As a matter of fact, Iraq’s relations with the Arab League countries have always been extremely varied. As far as the bilateral relations between Iraq and Egypt are concerned, they have always been complicated. In 1977, the relations between the two nations were violently ruptured by Iraq’s criticism of recently elected President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat and his peace initiative with Israel. However, the diplomatic support of Egypt during the Iraq War with Iran resulted in better relations and contacts between the two states, although the ambassadorial-level representation in the two states was still absent. During 1983, Iraq was continuously calling for the restoration of the “natural code” in Egypt. In January 1984, Iraq assisted in restoring Egypt’s membership in the OIC. Nevertheless, the relations between the two countries were spoilt in 1990 following the Egyptian coalition with the UN, which urged Iraq to take its military forces out of Kuwait. Nowadays, after the War of 2003in Iraq, the relations between the two countries have improved significantly. Today, Egypt is one of the main economic and trade partners of Iraq in the Oil-for-Food Program.
Until 1980, the relations between Iraq and Jordan were quite complicated. However, Jordan supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war that improved their bilateral relations significantly. Further Jordan’s support for Iraq in the Persian Gulf War brought even more improvement of their relations. In 2000, their relations cooled after the current King of Jordan became the head of the state; however, they have remained decent. King of Jordan Abdullah was the first leader of the Arab world who visited Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. It was a crucial step towards decreasing Iraq’s isolation among other Arab League members. Nowadays, Jordan is one of the countries that have embassies in Iraq.
Since 1943, Lebanon and Iraq have maintained bilateral diplomatic relations. They were bond as they both had supported the Palestinians and refused to recognize Israel. As a matter of fact, relations between Iraq and Lebanon have been relatively warm and close, both culturally and politically. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, the relations became stronger as the Ba’ath party had decent relations with Amine Gemayel and Bachir. The relations improved, even more, when the officials of Iraq criticized Israel’s actions in the war of 2006. Today, however, the relations have diminished because of the continuous sectarian clashes between the Sunny and Shia Muslims in Iraq and the Lebanese support of the Hezbollah movement.
Iraq-Saudi Arabia Relations
The relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia have always been not simple. Leaders of Saudi Arabia were relieved when Iraq was defeated in the war between Iraq and Iran. However, the leaders recognized that the relations between the two countries had been significantly damaged. In the end, the postwar policy of Saudi Arabia focused on ways to use potential threats of Iraq to the benefits of the kingdom and the whole region. This foreign policy vector was also called the containment policy. It supported Iraq’s opposition, which aimed at overthrowing Iraq’s government led by Saddam Hussein. In order to demonstrate further dissatisfaction with Hussein’s regime, Crown Prince Abdallah ordered to videotape his meeting with Saddam Hussein’s opponents. After 2003, the relations between the countries had slightly improved.
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Iraq and Syria have much in common as they were both formed by the UK and France right after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Indeed, Syria and Iraq are united by historical, political, social, cultural, and economic relations. However, they have a long list of territorial disparities as they are the bordering states. For instance, the land of Mesopotamia has always been the territory argued between Iraq and Syria. However, despite these issues in relations, nowadays, the bilateral relations between the countries have been improving. In November 2006, new diplomatic relations between the states were established and described by both states as “historic” ones. That was the beginning of an era of political friendship and close cooperation between Iraq and Syria.
The original connections between Iraq and Yemen were religious, but the countries also had military, economic, and political ties. There was a strong element of Iraq-oriented policy in north Yemeni politics. Moreover, at the international level, Yemen supported Iraq in the Gulf War. Yemen has its embassy established in Baghdad, as well as Iraq has its embassy in Sana’a. Yemen condemned the invasion of Kuwait and did not support the Western military intervention, suggesting a regional Arab solution for this problem. Being the only member of the U.N. Security Council from the Arab world, Yemen felt the particular responsibility to be a mediator in this conflict and speak on behalf of the Arab countries. However, this decision was interpreted by the Western world differently. Firstly, the Security Council imposed trade sanctions against Iraq and allowed military enforcement. Later, when Yemen voted against the military enforcement in Kuwait, it was interpreted by the West as evidence of secret support for Saddam Hussein’s regime. Nowadays, Yemen remains a decent trading and political partner of Iraq, although, after the War of 2003, the relations between the two countries are not that warm.
Iraq and Sudan have officially established diplomatic relations, as Sudan established an embassy in Iraq, and there is Iraq’s Embassy in Sudan. Relations between Sudan and Iraq have always been rather close. As a matter of fact, Sudan supported Iraq in the Gulf War. Sudan and Iraq are tied by remote cultural similarities, such as religion (both are Muslim countries, but Sudan is predominantly Sunni while Iraq is mostly Shia), and language (people in both countries speak Arabic). During the American invasion, the tension between Iraq and Sudan intensified, despite the fact that Sudan opposed to the proposal. Since then, the ties between Sudan and Iraq have improved significantly.
The bilateral relations between Morocco and Iraq have always remained difficult. In fact, Morocco was the first country of the Arab League to condemn Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. However, after 2003, the relations between the countries have improved significantly. In 2013, the Ambassador of Iraq in Morocco Mr. Hazem Yousifi met the minister Mr. Al-Habib Al-Shobani in his office, where they decided to bring some positive changes into the bilateral relations, and improve the general cooperation between Iraq and Morocco. The countries remain important trading and economic partners within the Arab League.
Both Tunisia and Iraq have established diplomatic relations with each other. The relations between the countries are mostly economic. Moreover, recently Tunisia has signed the debt relief treaty with Iraq on the terms of the Paris Club.
Evidently, due to the fact of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990, the relations of the two states are complicated and difficult even today. Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait resulted in its government-in-exile. Moreover, most Arab League countries did not support Iraq along with the U.N. Security Council. The refusal of Iraq to follow the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and continuous threats towards Kuwait resulted in the cold bilateral relations.
As a matter of fact, Algeria has the same cultural identity as the Arab-Islamic nations do, although it is territorially separated from the Middle East. Algeria has faced difficulties with Iraq in the war between Iran and Iraq. Calls of the Algerian government to end the conflict, which was not favorable to the Islamic world, made the Iraq officials think that they were supporting Iran. This has caused the Iraqi fighters shooting the Algerian aircraft down, which was carrying important Algerian officials, who were involved in peaceful negotiations, including the Foreign Policy Minister of the country. That event has spoilt the relations between the two countries completely. However, during the Gulf War in 1990, people from Algeria widely supported Iraq. That support from masses by Ben Bella’s Movement for Democracy in Algeria and FIS caused the reverse in the governmental position from condemning Iraq to supporting it. Since 1993, the foreign policy of Algeria towards the Middle East has not changed significantly. Nowadays, the relations between the two countries remain stable.
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Iraq-the UAE Relations
The relations between Iraq and the UAE have always been intense. They had even worsened after the events of 2003. In 2008, the Iraqi government mentioned that the UAE was going to send an ambassador to Iraq. This was the first ambassador in Iraq form the Arab countries since the kidnapping and murder of Ihab el-Sherif in 2005. This announcement was made after the visit of Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (the UAE’ Foreign Minister) to Baghdad in 2008. That step marked the first time a government representative from a Gulf state had visited Baghdad since 2003.
Nowadays, the relations between Iraq and Bahrain are extremely difficult. Bahrain denounced destructive stances of Iraq towards Bahrain that were manifested in the speeches of religious and political leaders and government officials. The Prime Minister of Iraq described the authorities in Bahrain as “tyrants.” Bahraini leaders believe that such speeches provoke hatred, division, and split among the Bahraini people, and the problem of separation and political instability still remains an important internal affair in Bahrain.
Oman declared its neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war. Nevertheless, after the Iraq government sought to negotiate a peaceful end of the war in 1981, Oman clearly demonstrated its support towards Iraq. During the Kuwait crisis in 1990, the relations between the two countries were mixed. The policy of Oman in the conflict varied from the critical opposition of occupation and invasion of Kuwait to establishing decent relations. Such policy resulted in many deaths of Omani soldiers during Iraq’s aggression and ongoing negotiations for establishing the diplomatic relations between Oman and Iraq. Nowadays, the relations between the two countries are stable.
As Qatar before had no leading and powerful role in the regional politics of the Middle East, the relations between the two countries were stable. However, nowadays Qatar is the largest gas exporter in the world that automatically makes it a strong competitor to Iraq. After 2003, the government of Iraq has been constantly concerned about a possible role for Qatar and some other Gulf states in supporting the Islamist terroristic groups in Iraq and the influence of it on the decisions that concern the country. Some Iraq officials consider that the policy of Qatar imposes a real national security threat to Iraq. On the one hand, more than once the Prime Minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki and his officials have accused Qatar of threatening the national security of Iraq and supporting the Islamist demonstrations. On the other hand, Qatar accused the government of Iraq of marginalizing the Sunni people in the country, which was also considered by Iraq as interference in its national affairs.
Since the middle of the 1970s, Mauritania has had particularly close ties with Iraq. As a matter of fact, Iraq funded the construction of sanitation and health facilities, thermal generating stations, and schools and also invested in local fishing, mining, and gypsum industries. Iraq, until it became involved in the Iran-Iraq War in 1980, had provided large budgetary assistance to the government of Mauritania. In return, Mauritania also gave moral support to Iraq; in June 1987, Mauritania severed diplomatic relations with Iran. Nowadays, the relations between Iraq and Mauritania remain stable.
During the 1980s, Somalia was increasingly dependent on economic aid from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. This economic dependence was an important factor in the regime of Siad Barre and his decision to support the U.S.-led coalition of states, which opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Therefore, the relations between Iraq and Somalia had not been decent until the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime. However, after 2003, the economic relations between the two countries have significantly improved. Nowadays, Somalia and Iraq are decent trading partners.
The relations between the neighboring countries, Iraq and Palestine, have been historically close. As Iraq was one of the countries that refused to recognize Israel, it made Iraq one of the best Palestine supporters in the international arena. Nowadays, Palestine has a consulate and an embassy in both Arbil and Baghdad. During the Israel-Gaza Conflict of 2008-2009, the government of Iraq condemned the attack and supported Palestine.
Relations of Iraq with Other Arab League Countries
The relations of Iraq with Djibouti, Comoros, and Libya are stable, but not intensive. They maintain bilateral trade and assistance.
Having analyzed the bilateral relations of Iraq and other twenty-one states of the Arab League, it is important to conclude that relations with them vary significantly due to historical and political reasons. Nowadays, Iraq maintains decent bilateral relations with Palestine, Morocco, Sudan, and Syria. However, the relations with Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE leave much to be desired. The tension between some of the countries might result in further diplomatic and political conflicts within the Arab League. In order to strengthen the organization and its influence, countries of the Arab League should cooperate more in order to resist other countries. Moreover, more African and Asian countries should become members of the organization in order to improve their position in the international arena. Thus, Iraq needs to strengthen its authority and find more allies in the organization, especially in times of political instability in the countries of Northern Africa.
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