London, Asharq Al-Awsat- UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdallah bin Zayid Al-Nuhayyan visited Baghdad on Thursday, followed by a week of diplomatic successes in Iraq. He is the first minister from the Gulf States to visit Iraq since the 2003 war. Additionally, it was announced that two Arab embassies will be opened soon in Baghdad and that preparations are being made to open more.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari expressed satisfaction with these developments. He said: “This is an important development that signals the Arabs’ openness to Iraq after a long period of expectation and waiting. These steps were taken after some fraternal states determined that they must have diplomatic presence in Baghdad to communicate with the Iraqi Government and develop bilateral relations.”
“All these are positive moves indicating that the Arabs will communicate and interact with Iraq at this current stage. These moves came after everyone sensed that the security situation in the country was genuinely improving and that the Iraqi Government was serious in pressing ahead with the efforts to achieve reconciliation and allow all Iraqi groups to participate in the government and in taking key and crucial decisions,” he added.
Zebari continued, “On the other hand, improvement of the security situation created projects and opportunities for reconstruction and investment in Iraq. These projects and opportunities will lead to the activation of Iraq’s relations with the Arab states.”
He added: “The UAE foreign minister officially informed me yesterday that they named their ambassador to Iraq and that he will leave for Baghdad at the earliest possible time, while his credentials are on their way. Also, the foreign minister of the Kingdom of Bahrain said the kingdom decided to name an ambassador in Baghdad.”
He was referring to Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad Al-Khalifa’s statements two days ago on Bahrain’s readiness to open an embassy in Iraq soon.
The Iraqi foreign minister continued: “Kuwait, too, has taken a decision to name an ambassador in Baghdad as soon as possible. At the same time, we will nominate an ambassador to serve in Kuwait. Also, they expressed a genuine desire to reopen the Kuwaiti consulate in Basra, and we approved this idea.”
Although Saudi Arabia has not opened an embassy in Baghdad to date, the Kingdom dispatched a delegation to the Iraqi capitol to inspect the situation in Iraq and examine the possibility of opening an embassy. Zebari said: “Last year, a [Saudi] political-security delegation visited us, and we showed it some locations and sites. They have taken a decision in this regard, but security concerns are holding them. We hope we will overcome these concerns.” He added: “The arrival of these ambassadors will be a good beginning for the return of other states’ ambassadors. We are optimistic that there will be a powerful Saudi, Egyptian, and Arab presence in Baghdad.”
However, Iraq has not yet named ambassadors to serve in important Arab capitals, including Kuwait and Riyadh. On this issue, Zebari said: “We sent names of candidates to the council of ministers to choose ambassadors to important capitals, such as Riyadh, Cairo, Kuwait, the UAE capital, and Syria.” He did not indicate when the names of these ambassadors will be announced.
He noted: “We are expecting replies soon. When the approvals are secured, the ambassadors will take up their posts in these fraternal countries.” Currently, there are five Arab embassies in Baghdad. They are the embassies of Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon, and Tunisia. However, the diplomatic representation at these embassies is at the level of charge d’affaires, and there is no Arab ambassador in Baghdad to date.
Zebari pointed out that non-Gulf Arab countries have also expressed willingness to open embassies in Baghdad. He said: “The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan informed us that they will name a new ambassador to serve in Baghdad. Also, the Egyptian Government notified us that it is about to send a security and diplomatic delegation to Baghdad to inspect the Egyptian embassy and mission building in order to reopen it.”
Egypt closed its embassy in Baghdad after its charge d’affaires was killed in 2005. The Jordanian embassy was bombed in 2003, resulting in 17 deaths. In 2005, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the abduction and killing of two Algerian diplomats at the Algerian embassy in Al-Mansur. The UAE suspended the functions of its embassy in June 2006, but did not close the embassy, when Consul Naji Al-Nu’aymi was kidnapped in Al-Mansur. Al-Nu’aymi was released after two weeks.
Syria opened its embassy in Baghdad after it improved its relations with the Iraqi Government. After the opening, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem made a visit to Baghdad. Zebari said: “The Syrian diplomatic representation is excellent. The Syrians have an effective and active embassy and a charge d’affaires. For our part, we recently opened a consulate in Aleppo to follow the Iraqis’ affairs and consolidate the economic relations between the two countries.”
As part of the movement to increase diplomatic activity in Baghdad, the Organization of the Islamic Conference sent a mission to Baghdad. Zebari said: “The Organization of the Islamic Conference agreed to open a coordination office in Baghdad.”
Security is a primary concern for Arab states that want to send diplomatic missions to Baghdad. The Iraqi foreign minister said: “With regard to the protection of missions and embassies, the Iraqi Government undertook to provide maximum security for Arab diplomats and missions in Baghdad.” He continued: “The Foreign Ministry designated safe locations and prepared suitable buildings to enable the missions to perfectly perform their functions.”
“There is a specialized unit at the Interior Ministry to provide security for foreign embassies and missions. However, we gave these states more than one option in order to remove any excuses regarding security. They can stay in or outside the Security Zone, and we provided all the things that these missions need,” he added.
Zebari attended the meeting of the foreign ministers of the 6+2 states, which constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council states + Jordan and Egypt, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice which was held in Bahrain at the end of April. The Iraqi foreign minister’s participation in that meeting was a key step toward improving Iraq’s relations with the Arab states. Zebari said: “It was an important meeting. Iraq attended the 6+2 meetings for the first time and will attend the upcoming meetings. Diplomatic representation was one of the main issues that were discussed at that meeting.” Zebari refused to give more details on the meeting.