This week President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took part in the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership. Egypt, he demonstrated, is keen on an Iraq capable of playing an active and balanced role at the regional level, and to this end hopes to secure the country’s security and stability.
Besides Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, France, Turkey and Iran all participated. Though seldom reading from the same page and often pursuing conflicting agendas, there is hope that these countries can now coordinate their policies to benefit Iraq and its people. Without constructive dialogue among them, it remains difficult to help Iraq to face its many political and economic challenges.
The current Iraqi government has been making a tireless effort to affirm the country’s sovereignty and improve its security and economic conditions. Yet this will remain a difficult job if Iraq’s neighbours, namely Iran, does not agree to prioritise the interests of the Iraqi people and maintain Iraq’s unity and territorial integrity.
After the United States invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, it was not the American occupiers who had the upper hand, but Iran, the main beneficiary of Washington’s reckless and unjustified military adventure, which cost the Iraqi people very dearly.
The cost was not limited to the tragic human loss of more than one million people, but even Iraq’s existence as one country became in question. The majority Shiite south fell totally under Iran’s control; the areas where Sunnis make up the majority lost their former glory and were easily swept by the terrorist IS group, while the Kurdish north remained in practice a near independent country, something that had already been the case since late Saddam Hussein foolishly invaded Kuwait in late 1990. Sectarianism, corruption and chaos became the norm in Iraq, as well as living under constant threat of terrorist bombings and military raids by neighbouring countries, namely Turkey.
Al-Sisi’s speech at the conference carried several important messages, together with a sincere and emotional appeal to Iraqis to preserve their country, maintain its unity and elect representatives in the upcoming elections who will make Iraqi interests their sole priority.
The ties between Egypt and Iraq are not just historical, since they are two of the world’s oldest civilisations, but the immigration of millions of Egyptians to Iraq after the oil boom in the late 1970s created many family and personal ties as well. After the US occupation of Iraq and the sharp deterioration in security in 2003, it was Egypt’s turn to receive more than one million Iraqis who sought refuge in their second home.
Feeling that close ties with Egypt’s Arab circle was a matter of national security, Al-Sisi reached out to Iraq, as well as Jordan to the benefit of all three countries. His visit to Iraq this week was the second in two months. In his speech, he pledged to develop multiple mechanisms, whether on the bilateral or the tripartite levels of Egyptian-Iraqi-Jordanian relations, or within a broader regional framework, to meet the aspirations and interests of the Iraqi and Egyptian peoples.
Egypt appreciates improvements by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi allowing state institutions to deal with the challenges facing the Iraqi people. The army and security agencies were able to defeat terrorism, eliminate the dark project of IS and preserve Iraq’s unity, security and national fabric. Besides, the government has made a serious effort to effect economic reform on all levels and in different sectors.
As Al-Sisi noted, Egypt continues to back up and support the Iraqi government in its efforts at stability, restoring its historical position, its active Arab and regional role and consolidating its position in the Arab world.
Egypt also stands behind and supports the efforts of the Iraqi government to strengthen the state and its institutions so that it can carry out its tasks in maintaining security and stability in Iraq and protecting the capabilities of its people and its territorial integrity. Moreover, Egypt refuses all foreign interference in Iraqi affairs and illegal attacks on its lands. Egypt calls on all powers to respect the sovereignty of this ancient country and the choices of its people.
Egypt’s principles since President Al-Sisi took office in 2014 have been based on mutual respect for the sovereignty of states, unconditionally refraining from interference in their internal affairs, and rejecting the policy of imposing a fait accompli using force, as well as refusing to provide safe havens, freedom of movement or any form of support for terrorist and extremist groups.
If those principles were applied by Iraq’s neighbours, as well as international partners led by the United States and the European Union, they would help Iraq achieve a better future for its people after decades of war and civil strife. The Iraqi people definitely deserve to live in peace, security and prosperity, considering Iraq’s rich resources and capabilities: “the people who own this civilisation and this honourable history,” Al-Sisi said, “undoubtedly have a bright future thanks to their children, their hope and motivation to achieve a better tomorrow.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly