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Three-way alliance presents opportunities but faces challenges

Jun 29,2021 - Last updated at Jun 29,2021

Jordan, Egypt and Iraq are coming together to bolster ties and build a common regional vision amid changing geopolitical realities. On Sunday, His Majesty King Abdullah, President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Prime Minister Mustapha Al Kadhimi held a one-day summit in Baghdad, the third within three years, during which they discussed common challenges and agreed to strengthen economic cooperation.

But it would take years to translate the leaders’ vision into reality. That vision, as described by Kadhimi, would see a “new Levant” emerging after decades of turmoil that had swept the region featuring a US invasion of Iraq, sectarian infighting, Iranian meddling in the affairs of Iraq and Syria and the emergence of Daesh and its offshoots. The fact that this was the first visit by an Egyptian head of state to Baghdad in decades was another indicator that Cairo was slowly regaining its regional leadership role.

One of the main objectives of the Baghdad summit is to help war-torn Iraq reclaim its position within the Arab world after years of isolation, chaos and bloodshed. Without naming Iran, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that “Iraq must be isolated from regional interventions”, in reference to Iran’s regional influence especially in Iraq.

Since Kadhimi took over as prime minister in May 2020 he has tried to neutralise Iran’s interference in Iraq’s domestic politics with modest results. He has also sought to take his country out of the US-Iran showdown. Iran’s backing of Shiite militias under the banner of the Popular Mobilisation Units remains one of the biggest challenges for the central government.

Also under Kadhimi, Baghdad moved closer to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, which has boosted its diplomatic presence in Iraq in recent years. Iraq hopes to play a mediator role between Riyadh and Tehran.

Aside from bringing Iraq into the Arab fold, a move that was welcomed by the US, Jordan and Egypt hope that the three countries can benefit from much focused economic cooperation. Since 2019 both Amman and Cairo had signed a number of memorandums with Baghdad covering various economic and development areas. In the 1980s and 1990s Iraq used to be Jordan’s main export market while Amman was the recipient of cheap Iraqi oil. Also during that period and until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, millions of Egyptians worked in Iraq especially in the agricultural sector.

But now the three countries are seeking to elevate their economic cooperation. Jordan wants to see an Iraqi oil pipeline linking Basra to Aqaba, an old project, finally executed. It also wants to launch a joint industrial city on the Jordan-Iraq border while renegotiating free trade agreements.

For Egypt the linking of its electricity grid with Jordan and Iraq could ease Baghdad’s endemic power shortages while Cairo hopes to play a key role in reconstruction projects across Iraq.

On the political side, the three leaders are on the same page in pointing to the centrality of the Palestinian issue and the need to resolve it and to Jordan’s special role In East Jerusalem. They also support political settlement of the Yemen, Libyan and Syrian crises. Kadhimi’s vision of a “new Levant” would be boosted further if Syria could one day join this alliance.

There are immediate common challenges that the three countries can work to confront; namely the Coronavirus pandemic and terrorism. But there are a number of individual challenges that each country has to deal with separately. For Cairo the current crisis with Addis Ababa over the second filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam next month in the absence of an agreement represents a major existential threat. Amman and Baghdad back Cairo’s stand but beyond political support the issue will have to be resolved by Egypt and Sudan including the possibility of a military intervention. Egypt too is concerned with the outcome of the political process in neighboring Libya.

For Jordan, the Palestinian issue remains central to its foreign policy while Amman is dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis as it launches much needed process to achieve political reforms. Jordan is also facing a crucial water shortage crisis.

For Iraq, achieving internal reconciliation and cushioning the country against a spillover of US-Iran confrontation is a major objective. The holding of legislative elections this October will mark an important step towards meeting people’s demands to stamp out corruption, improve human rights records and boost the level of public services as well as create jobs.

All these three countries have their own peculiar challenges to deal with. The alliance will be tested, just as the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), where the three countries were members, was tested in 1990 only to unravel as a result of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. But this time the need for each other in a fast changing region has never been greater and expectations have never been higher.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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