How the Gulf ‘solidarity pact’ may be Iraq’s saving grace

Saudi’s Crown Prince emphasized the decision to rejoin the coalition of Gulf partners reflects growing concern of the “threats” Iran poses to the region.

SAUDI ARABIA’S Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, earlier this month.  (photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD / SAUDI ROYAL COURT / REUTERS)
SAUDI ARABIA’S Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, earlier this month.
(photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD / SAUDI ROYAL COURT / REUTERS)
The potential for improved Iraq-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)  relations could free Baghdad from Tehran’s energy stronghold.   
Gulf leaders signed the Al-Ula Declaration on the 41st summit of the GCC on January 5, ending a rift that divided its members for nearly three years. This “solidarity and stability act,” announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and brokered by the US and Kuwait ends Riyadh’s years-long blockade of Doha. The decision by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to reconcile with Qatar symbolizes a strengthened and united Gulf front. While this breakthrough in diplomacy was well received by the Gulf’s Middle East neighbors and the United States, it also pushes Iran further into isolation.
Saudi’s Crown Prince emphasized the decision to rejoin the coalition of Gulf partners reflects growing concern of the “threats” Iran poses to the region. He added that the newly united GCC must “confront the challenges that surround us, particularly the threats posed by the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, its ballistic missile program, its destructive sabotage projects as well as the terrorist and sectarian activities adopted by Iran and its proxies to destabilize the security and stability in the region.”
The GCC was established in 1981, aligning Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait under the pretense that “coordination, cooperation and integration between them serve the sublime objectives of the Arab nation.” The creation of this united front was partly founded to ensure security and stability in the region in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. The three year-long blockade that ignited the rift in 2017 was imposed on Doha partially due to their evolving relations with Iran.  
Iran has also interfered with Iraq’s ability to maintain good relations with the Gulf. Since 2015, Iranian-backed militias have ascended to Iraq’s political sphere. These militias, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) were initially welcomed in Iraq to aid in the counter-Islamic State (IS) effort. Once the Islamic State appeared to grow weaker, PMF groups gained traction and approval by the Iraqi people, enabling them to enter Baghdad’s political arena. These Iran-supported groups vehemently oppose improved Iraq-GCC ties because it would damage them politically, especially if such an alliance was prompted by the United States.
Iraq’s new Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, has attempted to mend relations with Saudi Arabia since the onset of his term in summer 2020. Al-Kadhimi criticized internal forces loyal to Iran in a virtual conference with the Saudi Crown Prince in November. He blamed Iran loyalists in his country for hampering Iraq’s rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt specifically. The PM was referring to the propaganda campaign created by Iran-backed officials to terminate granting Saudi Arabia Iraqi lands to invest in.
Between 30% to 40% of Iraq’s power supply comes from Iranian electricity, natural gas and imports. If GCC members invest energy and resources in Iraq, Baghdad’s persisting dependency on Iranian energy would be greatly reduced. The unification of the Gulf states under the Al-Ula accord makes a stronger Iraq-GCC relationship possible. Incoming US President Joe Biden must seize the opportunity to work with our allies to better deter and confront Iran.
The writer, an analyst in Washington DC, is a former Anna Sobol Levy fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel, where she completed her MA in counter-terrorism and homeland security.


Tags Iraq Gulf