Iraq’s summit brought together Qatar and leaders from some former blockading countries for the first time in years.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met with top Middle East leaders and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Baghdad summit on Saturday.
The meeting was attended by Sheikh Tamim, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, King Abdullah of Jordan and Macron. Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates sent their heads of government, Prime Minister’s Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum [MBR], while Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia sent their foreign ministers.
The regional conference comes as Iraq seeks to bolster its role as a mediator between its neighbouring countries, namely Iran and its Arab neighbours.
The Baghdad summit marks the first meeting between Qatar’s Amir and Sisi and MBR since the 2017 Gulf crisis saw both countries sever ties with Doha and impose an illegal air, land and sea blockade.
The dispute ended in January this year with the signing of the Al Ula Declaration in the neighbouring Saudi kingdom.
“The fact that we managed to bring rival countries together on the same table and initiate dialogue between them is not only important to them and us but to the whole region,” said Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein.
In July 2017, Saudi Arabia along with UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar over charges it supports terrorism. Qatar has constantly denied those allegations.
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Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem Al-Araji had invited Sheikh Tamim to attend the summit on behalf of Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi during a visit to Doha last week.
“The Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem Al-Araji met the Amir of the State of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Doha, and handed him an invitation from Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to attend the Baghdad Summit,” the statement read.
The summit came as an initiative to bring leaders of neighbouring countries to the table with the aim of resolving tensions in the region and setting strategies to combat terrorist groups.
Speaking on terrorism and regional security, Macron warned of the threat the Islamic State (IS) group poses on the region following the Taliban takeover and the deadly explosions at Kabul airport on Thursday.
“We all know that we must not lower our guard, because Daesh [IS] remains a threat, and I know that the fight against these terrorist groups is a priority of your government,” Macron said, following his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Iraq and France “are key partners in the war against terrorism,” Kadhimi replied.
During the meeting, France discussed a potential regional water crisis, the war in Yemen, as well as the deteriorating economic and political situation in Lebanon.
According to Al Jazeera, analysts said the meeting was a chance for Iraq’s Prime Minister to emphasise his country’s role as a regional mediator “and re-engage with the world after decades of conflict.”
Baghdad intends to play a “unifying role” to address crises in the region, sources close to al-Kadhimi said.
Earlier this year, Iraq brought rival parties Saudi Arabia and Iran to the table, though little had been made public.
While the Iraqi foreign minister failed to confirm any meetings between his Iranian and Saudi counterparts at the sidelines of the Baghdad summit, the UAE and Kuwait confirmed that their foreign ministers met their Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian, without providing further details.
Asked about Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Iraqi foreign minister said that “what we understood from the two sides, or the parties, is a great and wide desire to reach positive results to solve the outstanding problems between the two countries.”
Iranian officials said their focus is on the results of the Vienna talks. “The meeting in Iraq … is only focused on Iraq and how the regional countries can cooperate to help Iraq,” an Iranian official told Reuters news agency ahead of the conference.
According to Al Jazeera, the meeting also reviewed political and security challenges facing Iraq, particularly the possible resurgence of the Islamic State militant group.
Participating leaders stressed that “Iraq’s stability is key to the stability of the whole region,” Al Jazeera reported.
France, the co-organiser of the conference, described the summit as “historic”, saying that it was evidence of the country’s re-stabilisation following the deadly years-long conflict with IS.
The French leader also vowed to remain in Iraq even if the US withdraws its forces.
“No matter what choices the Americans make, we will maintain our presence in Iraq to fight against terrorism,” he said.