Regional ties grow for Iraq

Baghdad hopes diplomatic renewal with Egypt will lead other Arab nations to follow suit.

view of baghdad
Egypt’s foreign minister made a surprise visit to Baghdad in October [AP]

Arab nations have shied away from full relations with the government of Iraq that sprang from the 2003 US-led invasion. But improved diplomatic ties between the Iraqi leadership and its neighbours now looks increasingly likely with countries slowly taking steps to appoint ambassadors.

Below is an outline of the diplomatic moves up to October 2008:

Bahrain: Towards the end of August 2008, Salah al-Malki was named as Bahrain’s first ambassador to Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003.

Egypt: Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister, made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on October 5, together with Egypt’s energy minister, to negotiate talks about returning an ambassador to Iraq. Egypt’s last envoy was kidnapped and killed shortly after arriving in 2005.

Iran: At least two people were killed when a car bomb exploded near the Iranian embassy in June 2008. However, Iran, along with Turkey, remain the only two countries in the Middle East that have fully functioning embassies in Iraq. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has made several trips to Baghdad and his latest visit was in March 2008. Iran has links to key Shia parties and politicians in Iraq and many prominent Iraqi Shias lived in exile in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s deposed leader.

Israel: Ties between Israel and Iraq have almost been non-existent since 1948, when Iraq declared war on newly established Israel. Since then, relations between the two states have remained, at best, hostile. With more than 300,000 Jews of Iraqi descent living in Israel and at least 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, neither countrt holds diplomatic relations with the other.

Jordan: A truck bomb killed at least 17 people outside Jordan’s embassy in Baghdad in August 2003. Five years later, Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to visit Baghdad in August 2008 on plans to discuss the improvement of security conditions with Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister. Jordan recently named an ambassador to Baghdad, though it remains unclear if he will take up the post.

Kuwait: Ali al-Mumin was named the new ambassador to Iraq in July 2008 after the country closed its embassy in Iraq in 1990 after Saddam invaded the country sparking the 1991 US-led invasion to oust Saddam’s forces. Kuwait hosted a regional meeting on stabilising Iraq in April, a sign of improving ties.

Lebanon: Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, was accompanied by the finance and foreign affairs ministers and other high-ranking officials in a Baghdad visit in August 2008 to discuss energy and trade. Lebanon shares Iraq’s experience of seeking to end sectarian conflict by forming a government that balances the interests of competing communities.

Qatar: Qatar has not established formal diplomatic ties with Iraq, but it has managed to maintain cordial relations with the country over the past several years as a mediator between the West and Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has had frosty relations with the Iraqi government and has not hidden its suspicions that al-Maliki does not have the interests of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims at heart. However, Saudi Arabia said in August 2007 that it would open an embassy. An ambassador is yet to be named. In the latest step by Saudi Arabia and Iraq to rebuild ties after the US-led invasion of Iraq, Saudi Arabia returned 16 Iraqi prisoners to Iraq in September and received eight Saudis in return, ahead of a new agreement on swapping convicted criminals.

Syria: The governments of Iraq and Syria have a history of animosity since rival factions of the Baath party took power in the two countries in the 1960s. Their embassies were shut and reopened in 2007 after Syria sent its foreign minister to Iraq. No ambassadors have been named and Iraq accuses Syria of not doing enough to stop fighters crossing into Iraq.

United Arab Emirates: Abdullah Ibrahim al-Shehhi, the UAE ambassador to Iraq, took up his post on September 9. Previous attempts to establish diplomatic relations were sabotaged by a campaign aimed at keeping Iraq’s current government isolated in the region. The UAE maintained an envoy in Baghdad until one of its diplomats was kidnapped and held for several weeks in 2006.

Turkey: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, visited Iraq in July, signalling an upgrade to Turkey’s political ties with Iraq. Relations have often been dominated by the presence of fighters from the Kurdistan People’s party (PKK) in northern Iraq, who regularly launch attacks on Turkey.

Source: News Agencies

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