The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership, held in the Iraqi capital on Saturday (28 August), brought many regional countries together including those who in recent years have been at odds with each other. The conference was co-hosted by Iraq and France and was the first large gathering of Arab leaders in Baghdad since 2012.
The summit showcased the changing tide in the European southern neighbourhood where Turks and Saudis, Qataris and Egyptians, and Saudis and Iranians, are opening up for dialogue following a turbulent decade of regional rivalry.
Even if the summit did not fully mend relations between rivals, it certainly contributed in some way towards Iraq restoring its prestige as a regional player. A source close to Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said that the PM wants to portray Iraq as a neutral mediator in the region’s crises and to re-engage with the world after being part of two Gulf wars and a campaign against the Islamic State.
Iraq has also been part of the ongoing efforts to facilitate dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia. While the talks have not yet lead to a breakthrough, they signalled a de-escalation in tension between the two sides. Both the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers were present in Baghdad on Saturday but it is not confirmed if they had met at the sidelines of the summit.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait confirmed that their foreign ministers met their Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, but provided no further details. The recently appointed Amirabdollahian said that he was keen on restoring relations with Arab countries.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, also met with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad of Qatar at the sidelines of the meeting to discuss bilateral relations. Sheikh Tamim also met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.
The summit also covered issues relevant to Iraq itself, including its own security and stability and various economic projects. Leaders praised the role and progress of Iraq but many analysts said that regional co-operation is long term process and the summit was only the start of such a process and it avoided discussing contentious topics.