In April, the quality that Iraq was mediating between longtime rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran captivated Middle East watchers. Iraq’s new role as a Saudi-Iran intermediary comes arsenic the Saudis person taken factual steps successful caller years to physique a meaningful relationship with their bluish neighbor, specified arsenic reopening their borderline past November for the archetypal clip since 1990. Yet portion the caller Saudi-Iraq narration is so noteworthy, Iraq has simultaneously been forging a determination concern with 2 different Arab states: Egypt and Jordan. Indeed, Baghdad hosted a summit in precocious June attended by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and King Abdullah II of Jordan. It was the 4th clip leaders of the 3 countries person met unneurotic since March 2019, and the archetypal clip connected Iraqi soil. It was besides the archetypal sojourn by an Egyptian president to Iraq successful much than 30 years.
At archetypal glance, a concern grouping unneurotic Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan appears alternatively strange. One commentator, not without reason, called it an confederation composed of the “region’s unusual fellows.” However, Iraq has historically had important economical relationships with some Egypt and Jordan, and successful information the 3 countries — on with North Yemen — came unneurotic successful a precise short-lived concern called the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC) from 1989 to 1990. Today, similar 30 years ago, economical practice lies astatine the bosom of the trilateral relationship. But past and present it has besides had strategical goals. And successful the longer term, the caller concern perchance heralds a acold much ambitious task to bring unneurotic not conscionable Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, but the countries of the Levant much broadly.
Back to the Future
Iraq’s adjacent economical ties to Egypt and Jordan day to the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War. Jordan became Iraq’s economic lifeline at that time, serving arsenic a conduit for imports and lipid exports done the larboard of Aqaba. Jordan besides received astir of its ain oil, highly subsidized, from Iraq. King Hussein was Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s closest state astatine the time, visiting Baghdad often during the war. Egypt, meanwhile, saw much than one million of its citizens relocate to Iraq during the 1980s to capable jobs made vacant by the wide conscription of Iraqi men into the equipped forces — truthful galore that Iraq constituted Egypt’s largest root of remittances.
Soon aft the extremity of the war, the 3 countries, joined by North Yemen, formed the ACC. Each had a governmental motive to forge the pact. All wanted allies to equilibrium against the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Saudi-led confederation of the six Gulf monarchies created during the war. Saddam owed the Saudis billions of dollars successful loans from the war, portion Amman and Sana’a had longstanding concerns astir Saudi expansionism and interference successful their interior affairs.
Nevertheless, economical practice formed a cardinal pillar of the formation. The ACC was envisioned as a mechanics to summation commercialized among subordinate states, arsenic good arsenic to facilitate labour movements, peculiarly from Egypt and Jordan to Iraq.
The ACC had hardly launched earlier it fell isolated owed to Saddam’s penetration of Kuwait successful August 1990. But adjacent during the 1990s, portion Iraq faced an onerous planetary sanctions regime, commercialized betwixt it and Egypt and Jordan continued. Iraq continued to beryllium Egypt’s 2nd biggest export market, nether the U.N. Oil-for-Food Programme. Jordan remained babelike connected Iraqi oil, which it continued to person with U.S. acceptance. King Hussein lone precise reluctantly broke with his long-time friend, Saddam, erstwhile Washington agreed to invited Jordan backmost arsenic a adjacent ally.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Egypt and Jordan were among the archetypal Arab states to physique ties to the caller Iraq pursuing the 2003 U.S. invasion. In 2005, then-Jordanian Prime Minister Adnan Badran became the astir elder Arab authoritative to sojourn Iraq since the invasion; 3 years aboriginal Abdullah was the archetypal Arab caput of authorities to visit. Egypt and Iraq reestablished commercialized ties successful 2004. The pursuing twelvemonth Cairo sent an ambassador to Baghdad, though tragically the Egyptian diplomat was assassinated by al-Qaida successful Iraq a fewer weeks aft his arrival. The Jordanian embassy successful Baghdad was besides among the first targets of al-Qaida successful Iraq.
The improvement of Iraq’s economical relationships with Egypt and Jordan was importantly hindered by its sectarian civilian warfare of the 2000s and the emergence of the Islamic State radical successful the 2010s. But successful caller years, the 3 countries person again taken meaningful steps to rebuild economical ties. In 2017, Egypt began to person lipid from Iraq, aft its lipid proviso was chopped disconnected by Saudi Arabia. Jordan began to instrumentality transportation of Iraqi lipid successful 2019. Since at slightest 2017, the 3 countries person anticipated undertaking a large associated vigor project, linking Iraq’s oilfields successful Basra to Aqaba via pipeline, which could beryllium further extended to Egypt. Meanwhile, Iraq has besides looked to Egyptian and Jordanian companies for the monolithic reconstruction projects it volition request to undertake to retrieve from 4 decades of wars. There are besides plans to connect Iraq to Jordan and Egypt’s energy grids to trim its dependence connected energy exported from Iran.
Nevertheless, each 3 countries are cash-strapped — a major challenge for their ambitions. At the extremity of past year, Egypt and Iraq agreed, successful effect, to trade Iraqi lipid for Egyptian reconstruction assistance. In the longer run, the 3 countries volition request to look to extracurricular parties for financing.
While Iraq is heading to elections this fall, astir of its leaders look enthusiastic astir the partnership’s economical promise. Discussions for the task were already underway during the premiership of Haider al-Abadi. Subsequently, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, connected his archetypal travel overseas arsenic premier curate successful March 2019, attended the archetypal trilateral acme successful Cairo. President Barham Salih met with el-Sissi and Abdullah successful New York, connected the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, successful September 2019. Current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi headlined Iraqi attendance astatine the 3rd acme successful Amman successful August 2020.
A New Levant?
Economic practice is the driving unit down the formation, but arsenic successful 1989, each of the 3 has a governmental inducement to travel together. Iraq wants to diversify its determination relationships beyond Iran — though it is important to stress that Baghdad does not purpose to make its relations with its Arab neighbors astatine the disbursal of its narration with Tehran. Iraq wants affable relations with both. The Iranians, for their part, mightiness really look favorably connected Iraqi economical practice with Egypt and Jordan – if, down the line, they volition besides beryllium capable to payment economically. By contrast, if Egypt and Jordan, and for that substance the United States, question to usage the enactment arsenic a means to isolate Iran, Tehran volition undoubtedly sow problems. The grade to which Iran whitethorn beryllium allowed to payment volition yet beryllium connected the result of its ongoing negotiations with the Biden administration.
Egypt and Jordan, meanwhile, privation to trim their dependence connected Saudi Arabia. For Jordan, this is peculiarly captious pursuing reports of Saudi engagement successful a recent conspiracy to destabilize the state and regenerate King Abdullah with former Crown Prince Hamza. The caller enactment would springiness Jordan, arsenic good arsenic Egypt and Iraq, greater leverage vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and the different Gulf countries.
But the astir significant, if inactive implicit, governmental nonsubjective whitethorn beryllium to supply a means successful the longer word to rehabilitate Syria. Leaders from the 3 countries person begun to telephone their enactment “the caller Levant,” oregon “al-Sham al-Jadid” successful Arabic. Sham is simply a notation to the metropolis of Damascus, and much broadly to Syria and the Levant. By definition, determination cannot beryllium a caller “Sham” without Syria. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan person fto it beryllium known that concern successful their caller bloc volition beryllium unfastened to different countries successful the region, without specifying which. In fact, this facet of the caller enactment besides has roots successful the short-lived ACC experiment. ACC subordinate states did not presumption their concern arsenic exclusive, and determination was some anticipation that Syria and Lebanon mightiness person joined astatine immoderate point.
The Egypt-Iraq-Jordan enactment is successful galore ways the resurrection of the aged ACC, which was disrupted for 30 years by instability and warfare successful Iraq. The U.S. has welcomed and should proceed to enactment this increasing concern of 3 of its adjacent partners successful the region. In the longer run, if Syria and Lebanon are invited to join, U.S. enactment would beryllium analyzable by the continuation successful powerfulness of Bashar al-Assad, rightfully seen arsenic a warfare criminal. Nevertheless, the “new Levant” task could yet service arsenic a means to undertake the monolithic reconstruction needed successful Syria and to trim the sizeable economical misery of the radical determination and successful Lebanon.
After a decennary of warfare successful Syria, and 4 decades of warfare successful Iraq, determination has ne'er been greater request for a caller imaginativeness for the region. The nucleus of a caller opening mightiness conscionable prevarication successful an economical concern archetypal launched much than 30 years ago.