What started as a diplomatic success and a unique occasion of interfaith dialogue for Iraq as well as its Kurdish autonomous region ended up triggering some unforeseen implications that have caused quite a headache for both Kurdish officials in Erbil and chancelleries in Ankara and Teheran.
The Rome MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the most significant issues and trends in the MENA region. Today, we focus on the significance of Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq and its possible implications on both the country’s domestic inter-faith dynamics and the region’s tense geopolitical situation.
Almost three years after Iraq declared victory against the so-called Islamic State (IS), whether and to what extent foreign countries continue to assist Baghdad in maintaining security will affect geopolitical alliances, counterterrorism operations, corruption and, indirectly, numerous other issues in the country.
On August 11, a Turkish drone strike in north-eastern Iraq killed two Iraqi border guards who were returning from an alleged conflict resolution meeting with representatives of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara, the US, and the European Union.
On August 20, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi met with US President Donald Trump in Washington DC for the second round of the Strategic Dialogues, a series of bilateral talks during which the leaders attempted to discuss the future of both countries’ economic, political and security relations.
In the course of his first official visit to the US in mid-August 2020, the Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi assured his American allies of his commitment to a mutually beneficial exchange.
In Iraq, politics is personal, and the politics of Baghdad-Erbil relations is no exception. Improvements and deteriorations in this relationship have largely been dictated by interpersonal dynamics, such as the rapport and mutual confidence between leaders. In May 2020, the Kurdistan Region’s major political parties played an unusually decisive role in having Mustafa Al-Kadhimi selected as the Prime Minister (PM) of Iraq.
Iraq is facing the biggest challenge to its economy since 2003. Even during the vicious and costly conflict with ISIS, when oil prices plummeted and the government struggled to finance the war, the economic shock did not appear to be as insurmountable as it does today. The COVID-19 epidemic in Iraq has shown no signs of abating and the IMF predicts that Iraq’s economy will contract by 4.7% in 2020.
In October 2019, Iraqi youth took to the streets en masse to protest against government corruption and lack of essential services. The protests later developed to call for a total overhaul of the political system, including a new electoral law, early elections held under UN supervision and constitutional reform, among other issues.
At first glance, managing and developing ties with Iraq’s neighbours seems to be only one among the many challenges that Baghdad’s new Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, is facing. However, as Iraq struggles amid economic turbulences, political divisions and the resurgent terrorist threat posed by Daesh, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the country appears increasingly important.