Upon receiving its guest Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, Abu Dhabi made a considerable goodwill gesture when it dropped approximately US $7 billion of debt and related interest owed by Iraq. This action was followed by naming its ambassador to Baghdad as well.
The United Arab Emirates’s (UAE) gesture in and of itself may be regarded as a first step in the direction of good intentions towards Iraq – but the question is: Will Nouri al Maliki’s government take advantage of this initiative and respond to it with an even bigger gesture towards Abu Dhabi and all the Arab states, and will it grant them more reassurances?
I have previously written about the Arab states’ neglect of Iraq; however today we are witnessing an Arab state’s interest in Baghdad. The importance lies in what Iraq’s reaction towards these Arab initiatives will be; the most prominent of which is the aforementioned cancellation of debt by the UAE.
This action may be considered an opportunity for Nouri al Maliki’s government to demonstrate to its Arab neighbors that Iraq is close to its neighboring states, in addition to being one of the factors for stability in the region. Reassuring the Arab states will not come about through offering concessions, that’s for sure, rather; it will happen through further Iraqi internal reconciliation while impeding the path of any party that tries to control Iraq and drag it into a subordination that is guided by a narrow-minded logic.
Al Maliki’s government must make a move towards paying the debts that it owes to the Iraqi people – and this cannot be achieved except through consolidating national reconciliation and by involving all of Iraq’s various sects in the political process.
The Iraqi government must also work to abolish all features of sectarian divisions with in it; it is one Iraq for all – not for a particular sect over another. What Iraq’s neighbors want to avoid is the ‘Lebanonization’ (balkanization) of Iraq. The Gulf Arabs and the moderates among the Arab states do not want to see an Iraq in which the ministries and centers of power are distributed between the sects.
As I have previously written, the problem with the Gulf States and some Arab countries towards Iraq lies in the lack of confidence in al Maliki’s government’s intentions and the truth behind its motives, and the Iraqi government must work to dispel these suspicions.
The last thing that moderate Arab states want for Iraq is for it to become like Lebanon; this would be a disaster by all standards for the moderate states, and the Gulf States in particular. What is alarming about Iraq today is the rise of religious symbols at the expense of the understandings of building the Iraq state, in addition to the opacity of Baghdad’s real position towards the Iranian government.
Iraq’s democracy must not be about slogans that the Iranians and others exploit in order to seize control of Baghdad. Moreover, there must be no external influence capable of controlling the political decision in Iraq; this constitutes a grave danger to Iraq and its identity and to its critical and anticipated role in all domains.
The ball is now in Mr. al Maliki’s court and he has a viable opportunity to return to the Arab community and to play an active role. Al Maliki is presently capable of driving the Gulf States into accelerating the positive steps taken towards Iraq, as the UAE has done, or equally; he can push the Gulf countries into saying that they were right to delay their dealings with Baghdad’s government.
The question now remains: What direction will al Maliki’s government take? Will it exploit the opportunity and achieve a breakthrough in its relations with the neighboring Arab states, or will it widen the gap?