According to Al-Ain media in the UAE, Egypt's foreign minister Sameh Shoukry began a working visit to Iraq this week. He is traveling with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi. Shoukry is supposed to meet a number of leaders and senior officials, in light of the permanent coordination between the three countries at all levels, the report says. This is called a “tripartite” cooperation group, joining the three Middle Eastern nations.
Egypt appears to be keen on increasingly coordinating policy with Iraq in the future. Back in late May, Jordan said it was working with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Iraq to build foundations of political and economic cooperation according to Jordan’s King Abdullah II. He held a meeting with a number of officials and former prime ministers at the Al Husseiniya Palace in Amman last Sunday.
Egyptian support for Iraq is important and comes in the context of increasing cooperation among Arab states. The UAE has done outreach to Syria and both the Emirates and Iraq want positive relations with Damascus. Although Iran has deep influence in Iraq, there is interest in increasing cooperation. Baghdad can also serve as a bridge between some of the Arab states and Tehran. This could increase some reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran as well.
Jordan, Egypt and Iraq are key countries because they form a kind of bloc across the center of the Middle East. They separate some of the chaos that continues in Syria – and the Iranian occupation of parts of Syria and Lebanon – from the more wealthy Gulf States. As such, these three countries make up the heart of the Middle East. They also include the two historical Arab capitals of Baghdad and Cairo, which are important historic centers of culture and religion.
In the old days when Egypt was the most powerful state in the region in the 1950s, this partnership also mattered. Later when Saddam Hussein tried to take on the mantle of Arab leadership, in a sense replacing the Nasser legacy from Egypt, he believed that Iraq could be a center. Now things have changed slightly, but the overall concept of an Egypt-Jordan-Iraq partnership remains.
What does this mean for Israel?
THERE ARE questions about what this might mean for Israel. Jerusalem has good relations with two Gulf states now and reports say the US wants to increase some security frameworks with Saudi Arabia and Israel. President Joe Biden may have postponed a visit, but US Central Command and its naval component Navcent are working on security issues across the region.
But while Egypt and Jordan have ties with Israel, Iraq does not. In fact, it has pushed a new law slamming any normalization with the Jewish state and potentially giving the death penalty for Iraqis who want it.
This means that Iraq is an outlier in the region. It is a country influenced by Iran and it continues to oppose Israel. Iran frequently accuses the Kurdish region of Iraq of being close to Israel and Baghdad, thus wanting to bash the Kurdistan autonomous region.
Meanwhile, the Gulf states have good ties with Erbil and the US is building a new large consulate there.
A source from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) confirmed today that on June 5, the court of criminal investigation in Erbil, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, ruled that a number of civil complaints brought by the Minister of Oil in Baghdad against international oil and gas companies (“IOCs”) operating in the Kurdistan Region must be delayed.
On or around May 19, a commercial court sitting in Al Karkh, Baghdad, acted at the request of the Minister of Oil and purported to issue summonses to IOCs operating within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, including Addax, DNO, Genel, Gulf Keystone, HKN, Shamaran and WesternZagros.
THE LAW of Iraq requires that civil proceedings cannot take place while a related criminal investigation is underway. According to reports on June 4, the president of the Judicial Council in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq issued a statement upholding the validity of Kurdistan’s Oil and Gas Law.
This matters because there are contexts of the gas dispute with Baghdad that impact Erbil and its close ties with Ankara. In recent months, pro-Iran militias have targeted a Turkish base in the Kurdistan region as well as an energy facility near Kalak.
Now the Kurdistan region has noted that a court in Baghdad attempted to invalidate the 2007 Oil and Gas Law. “The President of the Judicial Council stated that the Baghdad court has no constitutional authority to do so, because that Baghdad court was not established in accordance with Article 92 of the federal constitution,” a report says.
“The complaints filed by Baghdad’s Minister of Oil against the IOCs are based on that unconstitutional and illegitimate 15 February 2022 decision, and are therefore also unconstitutional and illegitimate.”
Thus, the Kurdistan region asserts that the law remains in full force, and contracts entered into by the Kurdistan Regional Government in accordance with that law are valid. “The courts of the Kurdistan Region have exclusive jurisdiction to interpret the 2007 Oil and Gas Law. No court outside the Kurdistan Region has such jurisdiction.”
This is important because Gulf countries and Turkey want a strong Erbil and want ties with the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Masrour Barzani of the Kurdistan region spoke alongside the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait. Rudaw says he warned of the "increasing influence" of foreign countries in Iraq and said that the attacks threaten to further destabilize the security of the region, “with neighboring states showing complete disregard for Iraq's sovereignty.” This appeared to be a reference to Iran.
So as the Egyptians work to grow ties with Iraq, these issues could be on the agenda. Fouad Hussein from Iraq is meeting the Egyptians; a statement from Al-Ain added that "the Iraqi foreign minister will hold talks with his Jordanian and Egyptian counterparts on many issues of common interest.”
Energy issues are high on the agenda as well as food security. This matters because of the Ukraine war, which has roiled energy and food markets.