Iraq and Gulf Analysis

After the Baghdad Summit: Implications Regionally and in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 30 March 2012 13:55

The Arab League summit in Baghdad is over and it is time to take stock.

Given the essentially international character of the summit in Baghdad, it is natural to start with the regional implications. And, in many ways, the degree of representation at the level of heads of state is a useful indicator of how things went. Altogether, 10 countries were represented by their rulers: Tunisia, Libya, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Comoros, Palestine, Lebanon and Kuwait in addition to Iraq.

In one way, those who came to Baghdad can be crudely summarized as the “Maghreb Spring” countries (Tunisia, Libya), the very poor in need of any help they can get (Comoros, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Palestine), and “others” not so easily classified (Kuwait and Lebanon). The absence of most of the GCC leaders can be attributed to continued aversion to the Maliki government in Iraq, whereas the failure of the rulers of Egypt and Yemen to show up may reflect the messiness of their own domestic situations as much as any clear policy on Iraq.

But there is more to this than the apparent preference of poor republics for building ties with the new Iraq. True, the gap between Iraq and the Gulf countries remains wide, but if the Iraqi government can build ties with non-GCC countries, it could form an alternative regional bloc within the Arab League.  The one obvious disappointing absence for Iraq in this respect must have been that of Algeria. Nonetheless, the net outcome of the meeting was a dilution of the GCC interventionist policy on Syria. Thanks to their own lack of initiative and boycott, Saudi Arabia and Qatar had to yield to Arab states that prefer softer language on regime change in Syria. The massive wealth of the GCC states was in itself not sufficient to buy a particular Arab policy on Syria.

Also, it is significant that a growing number of Arab states are prepared to interact with Iraq as a perfectly normal Arab state. This is so despite continued attempts by Gulf states to dismiss the Iraqi government as Iranian marionettes. The Arab heads of state who did come to Baghdad probably realized that the town wasn’t full of Safavids after all and that attempts to reduce regional politics to a clear-cut Sunni–Shiite sectarian struggle are futile. (An AP piece claimed “Sunni rulers” shunned the summit whereas in fact 8 “Sunni rulers” were present!) Growing number of Arab rulers realize it is normal for Iraq to have leaders who may or may not be Shiites.

The second implication of the Baghdad meeting relates to the level of internal Iraqi politics. Only weeks ago, both the Kurds and Iraqiyya talked tough about bringing Iraqi domestic problems onto the summit agenda. Schemes for unseating Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seemed to garner more interest than ever. In the end, though, the domestic situation in Iraq was kept off the summit agenda, and neither Ayad Allawi of Iraqiyya nor the Kurdish president, Masud Barzani, attended the meeting.

What Allawi and Barzani need to realize is that their position is increasingly analogous to that of the GCC states within the Arab League. The GCC countries who boycotted Baghdad saw their forward policy on Syria reversed. If they persist in boycotting Maliki, Allawi and Barzani may well experience something similar with their own ambitions domestically in Iraq. Importantly, other Iraqiyya leaders like Usama al-Nujayfi (parliament speaker) and Rafi al-Eisawi (finance minister) showed up at the summit. Their presence highlighted how a letter of protest from Qatar which attempted to speak on the behalf of the “Sunnis in Iraq” was just too unsophisticated to fit the complex Iraqi situation. Even the Bahraini foreign minister opted to have a meeting with Maliki.

Perhaps the best indication of the state of affairs in Iraq was the simultaneity of the summit and a mortar attack near the Iranian embassy. The two happened at the same time, but the attack did not derail or even interrupt the meeting of the Arab leaders. These attacks will continue to happen, but they are unlikely to create the collapse of politics in Iraq sought by their perpetrators. Similarly, Iraqi opponents of the Maliki government – who have many valid reasons for being critical – should realize that a policy of dialogue with him stands a better chance of achieving something in the real world. The alternative may well be growing irrelevance, both in the Iraqi political process as well as in the Arab world at large.

16 Responses to “After the Baghdad Summit: Implications Regionally and in Iraq”

  1. Salah said

    Looks to me you made Maliki holding Iraq and Arab all together, which far been an arealistic assumptions.

    Let read this different view about this summit:

    صفعة أخرى على وجوه الحكام العرب في بغداد

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Salah, very briefly, the writer is ironic about the presence of some of the peripheral Arab African states and Kuwait at the Baghdad summit. He goes on to mock the leaders of Libya and Tunisia for supposedly compromising their legitimate mandates from the people. But that is precisely my point. Tunisian and Libyan leaders opted to ignore people like this writer (who has probably been pounding the same anti-Maliki message for so long that he is incapable of grasping nuances and shifts). Maybe it is the writer and not the Tunisian and Libyan leaders who is misreading public opinion?

    The writer also conveniently forgets Lebanese and Palestinian leaders who decided to attend the summit.

  3. faisalkadri said

    Mockery aside, I did not see any favorable review of the summit except by Maliki’s supporters. Lets not forget that the summit has some value outside the Arab world (the US elections for example) and for the new regimes in Tunisia and Libya who may want to be treated in stately manner, but as far as reactions from inside Iraq, the street was and is strongly against it. Maliki is not street wise, the AL summit proves it and I think that the Kurds and Iraqiya are more in line with the people’s mood than in “growing irrelevance”.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Faisal, I do remember there were reports of demonstrations in Falluja during the summit. These featured demands for greater “balance” in the state bureaucracy, which is a Kurdish demand embraced more recently by Iraqiyya. I think also possibly pro Syrian opposition.

    Were there other demonstrations elsewhere?

    Also, how do you explain the decline of the “Sunni federalism movement” which made so much noice last December? Surely, this isn’t down to repression by Maliki alone? Suggests to me that parts of Iraqiyya actually misread the street.

  5. faisalkadri said

    Demonstrations against the AL summit is not the only sign of popular resentment, its not worth the hassle to demonstrate.
    Regarding the Sunni federalism movement, I always thought it is a none-issue, I mentioned this on your blog. Allawi wasn’t for it from the beginning and I think Nujaifi’s position was intentionally distorted and misinterpreted by Maliki’s camp.

  6. Hassan said

    How can you say the Sunni federalism movement was a non-issue, it clearly was. Although Allawi may not have been for it, certain factions of the Iraqiyya bloc were.
    Also as a new visiter here and having read through some of the recent articles and comments I would just like to commend Reidar for great articles and unbiased ‘real journalism or blogging what ever you may call it. It is this kind of work that is very much void in the ‘popular’ always this country or that country driven media.
    As far as I see it the Arab League summit was a quasi-success even with the absentees and the somewhat weak results it had, as just the mere fact that it was held in Iraq is a success. Again it is really sad to see many Western news outlets deem it as irrelevant and having headlines like “Bombs blow through Baghdad as tensions escalate in AL summit” and other drivel when in fact there were only two IEDs that had one victim (a police officer) and the security was very much above the standard in everyday Baghdad.

  7. observer said

    Really – you think the summit was a success?? I thought you had more acute insight than to conclude anything close to “success”, but alas, even you seem to be reading way too much into the empty words.

    Please tell me who beside the Emir of Kuwait that had any weight that attended and what are the great “decisions”…. Gimme a break. This is all much a do about nothing. Further, I wonder what Maliki gave to Kuwait to make him attend. Could it be a green light to go ahead and finish phase 4 of the new port?


  8. Reidar Visser said

    Observer, my point is, what happened to the Syria policy of the AL? It changed as the interventionist urge of Saudi Arabia and Qatar was replaced with something else due to their own low-level representation.

    Presence of Libyan & Tunisian leaders was also significant.

    With respect to Kuwait, if this was a prelude towards debt settlement then surely it was worth it?

  9. Salah said

    Reidar Visser,

    Thanks for your reply.
    The writer said his view just like you , however the differences between the two not meant that one of them right and the other one wrong, thus you have your reasons to say so the other writer also have his reasons to say what he said, isn’t?

    I am still not convinced that Maliki skills as democratic folk, well organised and well understand his job and politic.
    His Daawa back ground heavily hold him more as Sec. folk than been a secular folk who looks for more bright futures.

    He can’t get off his believes and his grieving as Da’awa party member, they still living in their victimhood status they came to take revenge from Iraqis.

    As for the summit to me is a scenario set in Bagdad, has nothing to do with Iraqis or Arab as such.

    The differences huge between leaders and those new “Arab Spring” leaders are just find them self in the summit, they don’t have agenda, they don’t added any value to this gathering as they not raised neither as effective leaders inside their countries nor on the world stage.

    Everyone came have something personal more than What Arab Nations looks different aspects and their future especially in today changeling world.

    There are struggle on Arab land, there is no one direction that give any promises that those new leaders you mentioned their attendances is significant to the summit.
    As for Kuwaiti Amir as soon as he finished his speech he left to the US just was waiting for him many miles from his place without waiting to end of the summit. As you said his attendance was for “debt settlement then surely it was worth it?” I doubt they will satisfy with the outcome otherwise they should respond positively, Amir should been positive by bringing Clause 7 Iraq under?

    the decline of the “Sunni federalism movement”

    We got now Kurd movement which causing the top subject?

    Last thing looks Brett McGurk in Baghdad for more support to Maliki?
    here & here

  10. Dear gentlemen,

    Surely the meeting was a success considering:-
    1- It was held, rather than postponed or cancelled like 2011.
    2- No serious security disasters took place; all the delegates are safe.

    @ Salah: Sir, the link to the article you posted; that media organization is based in Doha, Qatar. If it said anything otherwise we would all be shocked.
    @ Faisalkadri: I imagine you are correct regarding the Summit viewed negatively viewed by the people. It cost over $1 billion, prices escalated, city was shut down, etc. and all for what? No real significant advance on any issue concerning the Arabs or the Iraqis, and of course no improvement in the issues that they are most concerned about; electricity, water, housing, etc.
    However, Iraq is in a superior position on the international stage as this is a demonstration of it being accepted back into the Arab World. I don’t know if that’s worth over $1 billion, but the price needs to be paid.
    @ Observer: you are absolutely correct in pointing out nothing of substance was arrived at in the summit. However, at what point in the Arab League’s 67 year history has anything of significance happened at the Arab League? It would have been highly unusual of something did happen.
    As for the states that sent low-level delegations, other than Egypt and Yemen who as Reidar stated have their own issues and if we exclude Algeria, all the remaining states are (in reality, whatever their constitutions say) Absolute Monarchies; the GCC, Jordan and Morocco. It demonstrates what shall likely be a future axis if Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq sort themselves out; Democracies Vs. Monarchies.
    P.S. Bahrain sent it’s Foreign Minister, though.

  11. faisalkadri said

    Regarding Syria policy, the major cause of change is Russia’s veto, whatever happens in the AL is only an echo.

    Non-issue doesn’t mean nobody is talking about it, it means when somebody is talking about Sunni Federalism they mean something else.

    It seems that you all are measuring the success of the AL summit only by the fact that it was held on time. Seerwan seems to predict that Iraq is “being accepted back into the Arab world” while Reidar points out that GCC states and Algeria are not showing acceptance by their leaders absence.
    Guys, there is a lot of imagination in interpreting success of the summit. I say what really matters is popular perception, and as they say, perception is everything.

  12. Observer said

    Policy vis a vis syriamis not going to be changed by some mild resolutions by second rate reps. So e,pty rehtoric aside p, aimt nothing here folks. As for the tunisia and lubia connection. Really? I can think of many words to describe them but substantial is not one of the words…. Be that as it may, i say if iraq is going to be integrated back into the arab fold away from iran (as if that is going to happen) then it is a good thing. Ut that aint going to happen. Maliki needs iran more than she needs him. How else is he going to stay in power? By breaking iraqia apart with the new US recess assessment for an ambassador.,,,, dream on,,,

    Next drama. Wait for barzani to come back and watch syria. Electricity is going to bad this summer so lets see the de,ocratic maliki deal with peaceful demonstrations of his own.

    Rv did you miss the great attack on the communist part headquarters and the confiscation of weapoms of terror????

  13. bb said

    Nine years ago, who would have thought the Arab League would have been issuing a declaration extolling Bush/Blair’s freedom, democracy and social media agenda in Baghdad, of all places?

    When Amr Musa was welcomed to Baghdad in January last year (only last year!) “by a procession of three speakers supposedly representing Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish interests, followed by a Christian” (as it was derisively described here) who would have thought that within 9 days (9!) Mubarak’s regime would fall apart and 14 months later Musa himself would be running for president of Egypt?

    Who would have thought then such a summit would be hosted by a shiite prime minister of a co-sociational democracy in Iraq?

    Truly historic days. Heros: Iraqi people, Iraqi political leaders 2003-12, prime minister Nuri al-Maliki, former president George W Bush, former UK prime minister T.Blair.

  14. Salah said

    Seerwan Jafar,

    I am aware of that as always especially with this little sheikh who came to power after cue against his own father that talking big you all know why and what behind them.

    In same talk’n I see more in that regards when it comes to Iraq and Maliki promoting his as a democratic intelligent a leader for new Iraq, while Da’awa ruling Iraq telling they are miserably leading Iraq for the past three terms.
    I hold Malik and Dawlat al-Qanon & Da’aw the mistakes that Peter Van Buren stated in his blog as he is from a man worked with Iraq and he saw and talk about miserable Iraq case on both side from the fence:

    Looking back on events since 2003 (looting, dissolution of civil society, disbanding the army and police, losing trillions of dollars, Sunni-Shia-Kurd slaughter, civil war, Stalingrad on the Tigris in Falluja, more civil war, Abu Ghraid, failed reconstruction, failed US base strategy, failed US elections strategy, failed US oil strategy, failed US Kurd reconciliation strategy, World’s Largest and Most Expensive White Elephant Embassy, Iran-sympathetic autocracy emerging, etc) it sure seems that the US has made its share of mistakes.

  15. Mohammed said

    Dear All:

    With respect to Iraq and AL summit, there are only 2 GCC countries that really matter at the present moment—Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The rest are all second tier.

    Maliki’s trip to Kuwait, and the Kuwaiti Emir coming to Iraq was a resounding victory for Maliki anyway you cut it. Kuwait has the most leverage when it comes to lifting chapter 7 status for Iraq, so if Maliki can get Iraq back to full sovereignty, I cannot see how anybody could discount that achievement. Certainly, things seem to be moving in the right direction with Kuwait. I can only imagine how ticked off Saudi Arabia and Qatar must have been to see the Kuwait emir in Baghdad.

    The other missing player of course was Saudi Arabia. You can’t fault Maliki for the fact that the Saudis didn’t send a higher level delegation. He tried, and was at least able to get them to begrudgingly re-establish diplomatic relations of some sort. Like I have said before, I very much doubt Saudi Arabia can ever respect a Shiite leader of Iraq while they have absolutely no respect for their own Shia citizens.

    The real victory was that it was held, no major security failures, and Maliki was not cornered into accepting a position on Syria that was not in Iraq’s interest. Maliki’s core base from the Shiite street viewed the summit as a success, and even Sistani who is normally hesitant to ever commend the government for anything seemed to be impressed.

    But of course, those who have always hated Maliki, will take some glee in seeing that the GCC by and large snubbed al-Maliki. And why did the plump emir of Qatar not show up? Because he wanted to send a message to Maliki not to disenfranchise sunni Iraqis. The khutzpah and sheer hypocrisy of Qatar is beyond belief. Maliki’s critics have many legitimate complaints about Maliki, but Qatar’s concerns over Iraq should be taken with a grain of salt. When Qatar’s Emir blasts Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, then maybe his words can be taken more seriously..(and while he’s at it, I don’t quite remember what election he won to become Qatar’s head of state?)

    However, even if one were to judge the AL summit as a success, I don’t really see it as a game changer in Iraqi politics in the same league with “Charge of the Knights.”

    RV: how would you view Maliki’s strengths going into local elections in comparison to 4 years ago? In the end, the Shia vote is still fractured among the 3/4 shia parties, while Iraqiya enjoys overwhelming sunni support without really having to compete against a different sunni party. Maliki has done nothing to change that. While Nujaify has shown an independence streak, he has not broke from Iraqiya. So, as of now, Maliki is going into his next election campain without any real sunni partners.

    And like I have been saying before, watch out for this summer. If electricity services are bad, Maliki will be in serious trouble. The average Iraqi doesn’t give a damn about Arbil (only Allawi and Barzani do). Maliki has completely failed to address the issues of electricity, drinking water, etc.


  16. Salah said

    And why did the plump emir of Qatar not show up؟

    يوسف القرضاوي يمثل قطر في قمة بغداد وحمد بن جاسم يعلن : نرفض تجاهل السنة العراقيين وهذه رسالتنا لهم

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