Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1354, (27 July - 2 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Drawing closer

During Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s visit to Iraq, Cairo and Baghdad highlighted the historic relations binding them, writes Doaa El-Bey

 

Drawing closer
Drawing closer

Sameh Shoukri’s visit to Iraq is part of an ongoing initiative to widen Egypt’s network of relations with others, says professor of political science Ahmed Youssef Ahmed.

According to Ahmed the timing of the trip was significant.  “That Shoukri visited in the wake of IS’s defeat in Mosul suggests this was not a simple protocol trip. Differences between the various Iraqi factions are likely to come to the fore in the coming phase and it is important for Egypt to establish a presence so that it can play a role if called on to do so.”

The battle to free Mosul began last year. Iraqi government troops and allied militias joined with the Kurdistan Regional Government and international forces to retake the city. Earlier this month, the Iraqi Prime Minister was able to travel to Mosul to announce the liberation of the city.

Shoukri used his visit to Baghdad to signal Egypt’s support for Iraq. “Egypt supports the unity and sovereignty of Iraq as well as the principle of non-interference in its internal affairs. Egypt is open to all political factions and groups in Iraq,” said a statement issued by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid.

During his one day visit Shoukri underlined Cairo’s backing for the Iraqi government’s efforts to foster reconciliation, rebuild the state and assume a more active role in the Arab region. Iraqi officials expressed their keenness to boost relations with Cairo and widen cooperation on the political and economic level.

A meeting with Iraqi President Fouad Maasoum gave Shoukri a chance to underline Cairo’s commitment to support Iraq as it faces up to longstanding challenges. He also explained to Maasoum reasons behind the measures Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have taken against Qatar.

In his meeting with the three Iraqi vice presidents Eyad Alawai, Nouri Al-Maliki and Osama Al-Nujaifi both sides said they were keen to explore ways to boost political and economic relations.

Shoukri stressed the importance of Iraqis setting aside their political differences and prioritising national interests instead. He congratulated his interlocutors on freeing Mosul from IS and listened as they told him of the challenges facing Iraq as it seeks to rebuild the country and return the vast numbers of people who have been displaced.

In his meeting with the parliamentary Speaker Selim Al-Jabbouri, Shoukri discussed ways of improving parliamentary relations between the two countries and offered Egypt’s support for reconciliation efforts that promote greater stability.

Meeting his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al-Jaafari allowed Shoukri to personally congratulate him on the victory in Mosul and pledge Egypt’s help in rebuilding the country, not lest by contributing to training programmes for the Iraqi police and army.

Ways to boost bilateral relations were discussed and Shoukri welcomed the meeting of the joint Egyptian-Iraqi High Committee tentatively scheduled for next month in Baghdad.

The Shoukri/ Al-Jaafari talks also addressed the ongoing crises in Syria and Libya, the spread of terrorism and extremist groups and reform of the Arab League.

Meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar Al-Abadi, Shoukri praised Abadi’s efforts to foster reconciliation between different political groups. Al-Abadi stressed the necessity of completely uprooting IS from the region, and especially in Syria.

Closer economic cooperation, and in particular Baghdad’s decision to provide Egypt with much needed oil last year, appears to have contributed to much warmer ties between Egypt and Iraq.

A week after Saudi Arabia halted supplies of oil to Egypt in October, Baghdad stepped in and agreed to make up the shortfall. Iraq, which was already supplying Egypt with 200,000 barrels of oil per month, upped the amount to one million barrels in November. The move was a genuine attempt on the part of Iraq to boost the Iraqi-Egyptian relationship against a backdrop of Saudi-Egyptian tension.

“The fact that Iraq contacted the Egyptian government so quickly reflected the strength of the Iraqi desire to recalibrate its relations with Egypt. It also showed the benefits that have accrued as Egypt has diversified its foreign policy,” says Ahmed.

Shoukri’s visit opened up space for Egypt to play a more active role in the rebuilding of Iraq and offered an opportunity for Baghdad to re-engage with the Arab scene, build new alliances and enhance Iraq’s regional standing.

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