Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Manama Dialogue: Iraq and the Neighborhood

The fourth plenary session of the Manama Dialogue, "Iraq and the Neighborhood," had three speeches: Vecdi Gonul, the Minister of Defense from Turkey; Bob Ainsworth, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, and Mowaffak al Rubaie, the National Security Advisor from Iraq. Unfortunately, the first two talks suffered from the Immutable Law of Speeches by Public Officials.

The Iraqi National Security Advisor, however, had some very interesting things to say. First, his observations on the cooperation of Iran and Syria in ending the insurgency:
We have recently observed some good measures from Iran on tightening the control along the borders and making it difficult for arms shipment to the militias. Our engagement with Syria has borne fruit. There are some good measures that the Syrians are taking to tighten the control in Damascus airport, stopping foreign terrorists from crossing the borders to Iraq. Our engagement with Saudi Arabia encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply effective measures on the flow of the Saudi young men, so-called jihadists, coming to Iraq. It has also encouraged Saudi Arabia to apply tighter control on the flow of funds coming to the jihadists in Iraq.
Next, he had some harsh words for the GCC states, which Iraq believes is not doing what it should to help in the reconstruction of Iraq:
As for the GCC countries, I am not going to ask the question ‘What are the negative effects of the GCC countries staying outside Iraq’. Let me tell you the positive reasons for the GCC countries to come to Iraq. They will have more security, because the GCC countries will have better security through security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Iraq because we are fighting the same enemy. If the jihadists are going to be sequestered in Iraq, they are going to spill over to the region. Also, if they get engaged in Iraq, they will have the lion’s share of the huge economic reconstruction opportunity in the Iraqi market. If some regional countries or GCC countries continue to be imprisoned by their paranoia or scepticism of an Iranian-influenced central government of Iraq, or of a Shia-Kurd‑dominated government in Baghdad, how long is this going to last? Centuries?
Perhaps most interestingly, the minister called for the creation of a regional security organization:
Iraq is looking seriously to call for a regional security pact, like the good old Baghdad security pact or a NATO-style pact, with a set agenda on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-religious‑extremism and counter‑sectarianism. I think that is the way forward for this region. Otherwise we will continue in this sectarian conflict and religious extremism, if we do not join forces.
Finally, Minister al Rubaie repeated the call for the US to engage, rather than confront or contain, Iran:
For the US in the region, I have this message: United States, unless they seriously engage with Iran and Syria, the long‑term regional security will be in doubt. It will be very doubtful. We cannot continuing playing ‘Tehran & Co versus Riyadh & Co’, otherwise we will continue suffering in this region. I think we learned the hard way. I believe the United States and Iran have learned the hard way that they have to cooperate in Iraq. Therefore it is feasible for the government of Iraq to have on one side a strategic ally, the United States of America, and on another side we have a good relationship with Iran. I believe they are not mutually exclusive.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the region does not support the US approach to dealing with Iran. These are the countries that are most directly threatened by Iran, as well as those that stand to benefit the most from a moderate Iran. If the US persists with its policy of containment and punishment, it will certainly cost the US legitimacy, good will, and support in the Middle East and Persian Gulf. The call for a regional security organization is also very interesting. Historically, there has been a lot of tension between the various states of the region; the GCC has done a lot to flatten those differences. But increasing cooperation and communication between these countries would definitely be of a benefit (of course, it might also carry a price of increased cooperation in the manipulation of oil production and prices).

In the Q&A, the Iraqi minister continued on the general theme of the need to engage Iran, using the specific language that the US applies towards its policy of engagement towards China:
We have to engage with Iran. We have to build a network of economic, commercial, religious and cultural network to make interest between the two countries so that Iran will think twice before they start meddling in the internal affairs of Iraq, from the security side of it. Through positive engagement, we would like to deter Iraq from meddling in our internal affairs.
It is very interesting to see the Iraqis speak so positively about the relationship with Iran. True, Iraq is a country dominated by Shiites, as is Iran. But most Iraqis, even the religious ones, have exhibited little to no interest in the theocratic model presented by their neighbor. And yet, Iran's proximity and ability to cause trouble has driven Iraq to prefer very different policies from the US. If the US wishes to stay the course with Iran, it may put undue pressure on Iraq, Turkey, and other US allies in the region.


Matt Dupuis said...

Seth: Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh have a piece in the upcoming issue of Foreign Affairs where they argue that containing Iran is an unsound policy approach because it assumes the Arab states have a unified notion of how to approach Tehran and because most of the states in the region fear confronting Iran in a way that only fans the flames of discord. If you're interested, and it would certainly be worth of a blog post here, the full article is already online.

UPS Dad said...

Dr. Weinberger,

I was just wondering when, and if, you might be writing about the U.S. Presidential race.

I would really like to read your views, and, possibly, to offer with my own. For instance, it seems to me that the odds of Mike Bloomberg's entering the race increase substantially as Clinton and Rudy sink in the polls. Any thoughts?

Thank you.

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