It would be tempting to say that the US defeat in Afghanistan has spurred US client regimes in the Middle East to take steps to protect their shaky hold on power. This, however, would be an exaggeration even if US puppets in the region are beginning to wonder whether Uncle Sam can be relied upon for protection in light of the Afghan fiasco and the chaos that engulfed Kabul International Airport before US retreat in the middle of the night.
This brings us to the Baghdad summit held on August 28. It was initially billed as the “Iraqi Neighboring Countries Conference” but then evolved into something bigger. In addition to Iraq’s immediate neighbors—Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—a number of other countries and international bodies also attended. These included regional countries Egypt, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as distant France. Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations were also present. Syria was left out, a point noted by Iran’s new Foreign Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian.
Prior to the summit there was little publicly available information about its purpose. Many observers saw it as Iraq’s attempt to broker peace between Islamic Iran and Saudi Arabia. Foreign ministers of the two countries met at the summit and agreed to continue their discussions that had been put on hold because of presidential elections in the Islamic Republic.
The Saudis cut off diplomatic relations following their execution of Shaikh Nimr al Nimr in January 2016 that led to protests outside the medieval regime’s embassy in Tehran. Some overzealous protesters damaged the embassy building. This was not Iran’s official policy although the Islamic Republic expressed great anger at the kangaroo trial and the barbaric execution of a respected religious scholar.
Even so, Tehran always held out an olive branch and expressed a desire for dialogue. It is always better to talk than shout at each other, even if this is done on television screens. Shooting is much worse. The fickle-minded Arabian rulers are not averse to shooting if they think this would achieve their nefarious designs. Yemenis are currently experiencing this at the hands of the Saudis and their allies. Iran was subjected to an eight-year war launched by Saddam Hussain of Iraq whose 41st anniversary falls this month.
Aware of the Arabian rulers’ super-sized egos, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi dispatched his ministers in almost all directions with invitation letters to rulers to attend the summit. Iraq’s Planning Minister Khalid Najim traveled to Kuwait; Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein was sent to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Finance Minister Ali Allawi went to Jordan while Defense Minister Juma Inad was sent to Egypt.
What is revealing is that French President Emmanuel Macron, a rabid Islamophobe, also attended the summit. In a telephone conversation with al-Kadhimi, he had told the Iraqi prime minister, he would attend the Baghdad summit. What would be Macron’s role? There is speculation that he is acting as a go-between for the US and Iran in the stalled talks over the nuclear deal. Several rounds of talks have been held in Vienna but there has no breakthrough so far, primarily because of Washington’s illogical demands and Tehran’s refusal to surrender its legitimate rights.
Did Macron pass any message from the Americans to Iran’s Foreign Minister Abdollahian? It is quite likely although no official confirmation is available. Progress on the nuclear deal (officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA]) will only be possible if the US ends its insulting demands and remove all sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Former US president Donald Trump had unilaterally walked away from it in May 2018. He also re-imposed a raft of sanctions that were lifted following the deal. He even imposed additional sanctions that were and are illegal.
The Islamic Republic had welcomed the initiative for the Iraqi summit. When he received the Iraqi foreign minister in Tehran on August 10, President Ebrahim Raiesi described the conference as a “blessed step”. He said “Iran considers dialogue between the countries of the region in the context of addressing issues and improving relations between them, as a step towards strengthening regional security and stability.”
What’s in it for Iraq? Surely, the Iraqis did not hold the summit because it is a ‘good idea’ or that they hoped to bring regional rivals together, although that is an important consideration. Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussain said, “The ‘Iraqi Neighboring Countries Conference’ is being held in the context of arrangements aimed at supporting the political process and economic growth of Iraq.” When he met the Secretary of the Supreme Iranian National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, the latter told him that regional countries should settle their differences and maintain peace without the meddling of foreign powers.
For the Saudis, the Iraqi summit was one more opportunity for a face-saving way out of their disastrous war on Yemen. There is a simple way out for them: end it and let the Yemenis sort out their affairs. The Bani Saud have no business meddling in other people’s affairs.