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Iraqi leaders’ visits a prelude toward internal reconciliation, regional calculations

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Shehab Al-Makahleh

The visits of Iraqi officials to some Arab capitals in the past few months until recently with Iraqi Shiite cleric leader, Moqtada al-Sadr who paid a visit to Jordan on October 22, 2017 represent that Iraq is heading toward internal reconciliation before moving to playing a bigger regional role.

On his visit to Amman, Al-Sadr touched upon several issues of concern to Iraq and to the Middle East region including Iraqi reconciliation and the future of Iraq after the demise of terrorism in the country with a united Iraq. His visit to Jordan which came upon official invitation of King Abdullah II, has coincided with the arrival of Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi who held talks with the Jordanian monarch on Sunday in Amman before Abadi’s departure to have talks with Saudi Arabian officials as well with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who urged Iraqi and Saudi leaders to unite to confront Iran’s growing threat in Iraq and the region.

The visit of Tillerson and his meeting with Iraqi officials show that there is an American green light to Jordan and Saudi Arabia to play a role not to end the Iranian role but for somehow freeze Iranian influence in Iraq which has been escalating since 2003.

Al-Sadr has a moderate stance towards establishing balanced relations with the Arab countries in particular, amid growing Iranian influence. He has already called for disbanding Iran-supported Shiite troops in Iraq. The Shiite leader had earlier made two visits to Jeddah and Abu Dhabi in August 2017 followed later in October by a visit to Lebanon where he discussed the role of a new Iraq in the Arab region.

Al-Sadr leads the “Sadrist Movement”, which holds 34 seats in the Iraqi parliament, and heads an armed faction called “Saraya al-Salam”, a branch of the “Popular Mobilization Units” or the so-called “Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi”, which is fighting alongside the Iraqi forces against Daesh.

Al-Sadr’s visit is regarded as a shift in relations between the new Iraq and its direct Arab neighbors, especially with some important news coming from Amman revealing that the talks with both Abadi and Al-Sadr focused on the reconciliation process as most of the Sunni Iraqi leaders reside in Amman.

Jordanian sources disclosed that the Jordanian capital is preparing to host meetings for Iraqis months before war on Daesh in Mosul which started October 2016 and that such meetings are expected to be announced soon where Iraqis of all political spectrums will be represented.

Jordanian observers believe that such important visits of Iraqi officials, especially after the opening of the crossing border between Jordan and Iraq, show an Iraqi attempt to find a balance in relations with neighboring countries, to reduce sectarian tensions in Iraq, and to strengthen Iraqi leading position as before 1991 era when Iraq was a military and political leader for the Arab region.

For Jordan, a stable Iraq is very important for many reasons. The first is to stop attrition of Jordanian forces which were involved to counter Daesh nearby the Jordanian-Iraqi borders for many years. The second is that Amman needs to expand its economic and trade cooperation in a way that serves the common interests of both countries and peoples. The third is to regain Iraq to Arab umbrella where Baghdad with unified Iraq would boost Arab strategic defense policies and state of deterrence against Iran or any other enemy.

This has been reiterated by King Abdullah II who stressed on the importance of giving priority to the language of dialogue to preserve the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq in line with the Iraqi constitution, pointing out that the region cannot tolerate any new conflict, where the only beneficiary would be terrorist factions who thrive on further bloodshed. However, the sole concern in Jordan is regaining full security and stability to Iraq in order to boost bilateral relations further. It has been noticed in Amman that Jordan has been calling on Iraqi leaders to sit and talk to achieve national unity and reconciliation to build a stable, unified and strong Iraq that meets the Iraqi people’s aspirations for a better future.

Such visits of Iraqi officials to Arab countries would help bridge the gap between Iraq and Arab brethren who will help Iraqis regain their leading position in the region after being isolated due to the terrorist activities for many years that have badly affected the country’s stability and security and aggravated its social fabric. Such visits would indicate that Iraq is heading to direct Arab neighbors as a safe haven away from any sectarian influence in order to keep the country stable and unified for the Iraqi generations to come as more than 75 per cent of Iraqi population is under the age of 35.

Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.

Source: Al-Arabiya English