Al-Sudani’s balanced approach key to addressing Iraq’s crises

Al-Sudani’s balanced approach key to addressing Iraq’s crises

Al-Sudani’s balanced approach key to addressing Iraq’s crises
Iraqi prime minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani. (Reuters)
Short Url

Four months since Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani’s government obtained a parliamentary vote of confidence for its brief one-year tenure — which is enough time to explore the government’s orientations and foreign policy priorities — the PM has generated controversy for prioritizing a policy of “openness and striking balances.”
These concerns have been raised even though Al-Sudani was selected by Iranian-aligned political coalitions that had hoped to use his government to constrain the policy of compromise and of striking balances (between Iran and its associated proxy actors and Iraqi interests with the Arab world) introduced by his predecessor, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. The pro-Iranian coalitions’ objective was to increase their control over Iraqi decision-making and derail efforts to restore Iraq to the Arab sphere, an orientation rejected by Al-Sudani, who prefers a policy of openness and balance with the outside world.
Al-Sudani’s manifesto also includes provisions for eliminating corruption and empowering the national army. These moves, however, conflict with the interests of pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. He has also reaffirmed the importance of establishing balanced and positive ties with brotherly Arab and Gulf states, as well as with neighboring countries, based on mutual respect, partnership and equitable treatment.
Since assuming office, Al-Sudani has attempted to put components of his manifesto into action through various programs and by issuing directives to continue the efforts initiated by his predecessor to tighten control of the Iraqi-Iranian borders, fight drug trafficking and stop the smuggling of dollars. He also decided to continue mediating between Riyadh and Tehran, promptly holding meetings with Gulf ambassadors to work on this role and visiting a number of Gulf states. During these visits, he underlined his vehement opposition to militias using Iraqi territory to launch attacks against the Gulf states.
In an important gesture reflective of his balanced approach, Al-Sudani announced the return of the Arabian Gulf Cup to Iraqi territory after a three-decade absence. The involvement of Iraq’s Gulf allies meant the event was distinguished by the Iraqis’ great warmth and hospitality to all those participating. This tournament took place despite Al-Sudani’s awareness of how sensitive the use of the term “Arabian Gulf” is in Iran. It generated huge controversy within the Iranian corridors of power, to the point where the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran was summoned in protest at the use of the term.
Al-Sudani has visited Iran and plans to visit Turkey and Egypt. These diplomatic visits stem from his desire to reduce tensions between rival regional powers so that Iraq is not entangled in their settling of scores. He also arranged the second Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Leadership, which was held in Amman in late December in coordination with the Jordanian leadership.
In a blow to Iran, Al-Sudani last month expressed, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, his desire to keep foreign forces — in reference to US and NATO troops — in Iraq until Daesh is totally obliterated. In January, Al-Sudani visited Germany and France, two European countries that wield significant influence on the global stage. Additionally, there are predictions that he will shortly visit the US and send a delegation to hold discussions and coordinate with the Biden administration on the smuggling of dollars via the Iran-Iraq borders.

The prime minister is demonstrating his awareness of the crucial significance for Iraq of brotherly Gulf states.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami

Al-Sudani’s preference for continuing Al-Kadhimi’s “balance and openness” policy reflects his deep awareness of the important accomplishments Iraq achieved during his predecessor’s reign. Through adopting the same policy, Al-Sudani is demonstrating his awareness of the crucial significance for Iraq of brotherly Gulf states and of their helpful role in resolving the country’s outstanding crises. Al-Sudani is aware of the recent changes in the Iraqi arena. The Iraqi street, which rejects subordination to Iran, is calling for Iraq to return to the Arab sphere, which now has the upper hand in allowing Iraqi governments to stay in power and preventing Iraqi premiers from suffering the same fate as former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Furthermore, this balanced policy gives Al-Sudani more leeway and helps him emerge as an independent figure capable of addressing the outstanding domestic crises, such as power and water shortages, as well as unemployment, all of which were exacerbated following the US invasion in 2003. This policy also improves his government’s chances of gaining support from the Gulf states, the region and the international community until next year’s early election. The balanced policy also makes Al-Sudani an acceptable mediator among rival regional powers, particularly Riyadh and Tehran, which will enable both to calm regional tensions and turn Iraq into a vital player in conflict resolution.
Most crucially, Al-Sudani’s shunning of a policy of uniting and aligning Iraq with specific axes, particularly the Iranian axis, will empower the Gulf states to pursue strategic cooperative ventures with Iraq. Several projects have already moved to an advanced point, particularly the Iraq-Gulf electrical interconnection project, which is an expression of the Gulf’s desire to provide electricity to Iraq. In doing so, the Gulf states hope to alleviate the electrical problem, improve Iraq’s ability to satisfy its electricity needs, and alleviate the suffering of Iraqis due to summer power outages. They also seek to deprive Iran of this significant lever that it has used against successive Iraqi governments.
To conclude, based on Al-Sudani’s meetings and visits to date, it appears that he has many measures up his sleeve to achieve greater balance for Iraq — an issue he considers a necessity to put the nation in a position to form stronger international connections and help in resolving disputes, thereby mitigating its political and security crises. These measures include tightening border security, prohibiting the possession of weapons outside state control and preventing Iraq from becoming a launchpad for attacks on Gulf states.
Al-Sudani will also try to resolve the remaining water issues with Iran and completely eradicate any efforts by the remnants of Daesh in northern Iraq, with the terror group’s activities and redeployment greatly aided by the presence of Iranian regime-affiliated militias.
More importantly, Al-Sudani appears to be working to dispel concerns that he might use the balance policy as a systematic approach to sustain his one-year tenure and win a new term, in which he would return Iraq to being subordinate to Iran. These concerns continue to arise given Al-Sudani’s affiliation with the Coordination Framework and his closeness to Nouri Al-Maliki, Iraq’s notorious former prime minister and head of the State of Law Coalition.

Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is president of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah).
Twitter: @mohalsulami

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view