Iraq seeks to re-establish regional role with Baghdad summit

French and Egyptian presidents and Jordan's king are expected to attend Saturday's meeting

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi will host a regional summit in Baghdad on August 28, 2021. AP
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Iraq hosts a summit on Saturday with several foreign leaders in attendance as it attempts regain its regional influence amid an economic crisis and internal strife over the presence of foreign troops.

The meeting is expected to discuss the war in Yemen, Lebanon’s economic collapse and the region’s water crisis. It could also work towards a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, although neither country has confirmed their level of representation.

“This is a very important event for Iraq – any summit that Baghdad hosts shows that Iraq will have its political role back,” Jaber Al Jaberi, an Iraqi member of parliament, told The National.

“Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi’s diplomatic and political policy has so far succeeded in encouraging the international community to trust Iraq ,” Mr Al Jaberi said.

“Iraqis need this summit to succeed."

Who will be attending?

Baghdad hopes the summit will calm tensions in the region and pave the way for long-term solutions, but its success hinges on the level of participation. The only leaders who have confirmed their attendance are Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, Jordan's King Abdullah II and French President Emmanuel Macron.

“We were aiming to have the presidents of the invited countries sitting around the same table,” a Foreign Ministry official said. “But it looks like things are heading to a low participation level.”

France believes the summit will present new opportunities in the region, a French embassy official in Baghdad told The National.

"France sees that this conference will be the first step or stage for the stability of the region in the future,” the official said.

Paris does not expect immediate outcomes from the conference, but it could be the beginning of "a long-term process”.

“I’m not optimistic or pessimistic but try to be realistic,” said the official.

“This process is a long one, but what brings optimism is that all concerned parties will be attending or represented.”

The official confirmed that the situation in Lebanon would be discussed, and did not rule out discussions on Syria.

Kuwait will be represented by its Prime Minister, Sheikh Sabah Al Sabah, but Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Iran and Turkey have yet to confirm their level of participation.

“We expect them to send foreign affairs ministers. That will be good but not good enough to make progress on the issues planned to be discussed,” the foreign ministry official said.

It was not clear whether Lebanon would be represented at the summit.

Syria will not be represented after several countries, mainly France, objected to Iraq's invitation to Damascus.

“The Iraqi government grudgingly accepted that request,” a member of the Iraqi parliament’s foreign relations committee said.

“Putting the Syrian issue on the agenda is still something under discussion,” he said.

The Iraqi government is also planning to host side meetings between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but that will depend on the participation level from both rivals, the foreign relations committee member, who sought anonymity, said.

Renad Mansour, director of the Iraq initiative at London’s Chatham House, said the summit presented an opportunity for the Iraqi leadership to make something happen in the regional, foreign affairs arena after difficulties in domestic politics and moving towards a reform agenda.

“This is an opportunity to get something done at least at the regional and international level,” Mr Mansour told The National.

The main narrative is for Iraq to move from the role of being a “messenger”, as it has good relations with Iran, Gulf states and Turkey and international community, to a “convener”, Mr Mansour said.

“That’s the ultimate ambition,” he said.

Mr Mansour said those running the conference are not expecting a treaty to be signed at the end but holding the summit “itself is a good” sign.

“Iraq has a long way to go before it can become a country that can mediate but for now it has a very interesting position and lines of communication with groups who don’t talk,” Mr Mansour said.

The summit's long-term impacts and results will be ones to watch out for, he said.

Updated: August 26, 2021, 5:07 PM