Iraq is one of the important and main countries in the region, which cannot be without an influential role in its surroundings. If this role is absent or retreats for some time for internal or external reasons, it will come back and present itself on the minds of the political elite at home on the one hand, and on the powers in the region. On the other hand; If conditions are created for that. Iraq is currently seeking to return to the Arab embrace by using economic rapprochement to achieve complete political rapprochement, which, if achieved, will benefit Iraq on the one hand, and all Arab countries on the other hand, especially Egypt.
Egypt seeks to support the positive steps that the Iraqi government has begun to adopt to restore security and stability. It also seeks to enable the Iraqi government to fulfill the requirements of harmony and reconciliation among the various components of the Iraqi people to revive the concept of the national state away from any ethnic or sectarian distinction and to provide the necessary support to defeat extremist terrorist organizations. It also seeks to rehabilitate Iraq and participate in its reconstruction.
This study seeks to answer a main question: How did Iraqi-Egyptian relations diversify between the alliance and the decline?
Trying to build a set of sub-questions:
1- What are the historical roots of Iraqi-Egyptian relations?
2- How did the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime affect the nature of Iraqi-Egyptian relations?
3- What are the Egyptian efforts made to develop Iraqi lands?
4- What is the nature of the security challenges facing both countries?
5- What are the fruits of President Sisi’s visit to Iraq?
The first section: the historical roots of Iraqi-Egyptian relations
The first indications of Egyptian-Iraqi relations emerge from the relationship between the Pharaonic civilization of Egypt and the civilization of Mesopotamia (Iraq). The solidity of the relationship appeared in the mutual influences between the two civilizations and the different forms of interaction. The Mesopotamian civilization adopted the stepped pyramid system from Egypt in building its temples. Egyptian civilization also adopted the system of using seals and the art of drawing winged animals. There were also periods of conflict between the two civilizations, most notably the Assyrians’ takeover of Egypt until King Psamtik succeeded in expelling them.
In the modern era, Egypt and Iraq have had close relations that have extended since the beginning of the twentieth century and continue until now, since both countries gained their independence from Britain and established diplomatic relations between them.
Egypt and Iraq were among the founding countries of the Arab League in the mid-1940s. The two countries concluded many economic agreements, such as the Arab Common Market, and military agreements, such as the Joint Arab Defense Agreement and the Tripartite Unity Project, and Egypt provided strong diplomatic support to Iraq.
Egyptian-Iraqi relations are historical and well-established, as Iraq stood by Egypt in the 1973 October War and Egypt stood by Iraq in its war against Iran during the period 1980-1988.
The importance of Iraq for Egypt
For Egypt, Iraq is located in the Arab and Islamic circles: Looking at Egyptian foreign policy, Syria and Iraq are considered two main pillars of Egypt’s foreign policy in the Arab-Islamic environment. Egypt seeks to emphasize the Arab identity of Iraq, its unity, and that it is a state of citizenship, not a state of nationalities, sects, and sects. The current Egyptian leadership is looking to rebuild Iraq, heal its wounds, and present visions for a post-ISIS Iraq.
Egyptian foreign policy in the Arab circle has gone through three stages since 1952: the revolutionary era (1952-1967), then the pragmatic era (1967-1981), then the moderation and mediation era from 1981 until now. The pragmatic era witnessed Egypt fighting two wars against Israel. That era also witnessed the highest levels of Arab rapprochement and coordination in October 1973, and the most severe levels of Arab division, rejection of Egypt’s policies, and severing of relations with it after President Sadat visited Israel and the signing of the 1979 peace treaty.
President Mubarak came to power in 1981, during one of the most difficult and critical periods of Egyptian foreign policy. Egyptian diplomacy had great weight in correcting mistakes and addressing the imbalance that befell Egypt’s foreign relations regionally and internationally. President Mubarak directed Egypt's foreign policy towards the Arabs, to end the blockade and estrangement and try to restore Egypt's leadership role. The Iran-Iraq war, which broke out between 1980 and 1988, is considered the most important regional development during the Mubarak era. During this period, Egypt provided military and economic support to Iraq against Iran. About a million Egyptian citizens were working in Iraq during the rule of President Saddam Hussein, at a time when Iraq was very advanced and developed. In 1989, Egypt returned to the Arab League after relations returned somewhat to normal and due to the importance of Egypt, which cannot be neglected.
After the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, Egypt played a serious role in shaping the new Middle East. At the top of these roles was what Egypt did in the Gulf War, which was declared against Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. For example, Egyptian units within the coalition forces were among the first military units to arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Egypt emerged from this war with great material gains, as it received financial aid from the Gulf states during and after the war, and its debts amounting to $20 billion owed to the United States of America, the European Union, and the Gulf states were canceled. The loss that Saddam suffered led to his weakening, which resulted in the weakness and retreat of the anti-Western nationalist camp in the Arab world and the strengthening of the pro-Western camp.
Although Hosni Mubarak disagreed with Saddam Hussein, he opposed the American occupation of Iraq in 2003, unlike the Gulf states.
Egyptian-Iraqi relations witnessed a breakthrough again in 2007, as Egypt was one of the first countries to host the conference of Iraq’s neighboring countries in Sharm El-Sheikh, in addition to continuous coordination between the two countries to restore Iraq to its position and role in the Arab security equation, and this was embodied in several joint coordination meetings. Between the two countries.
The current period under the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is witnessing intense efforts to strengthen Egyptian-Iraqi relations. It indicates that joint action between the two countries, the interests of the Egyptian and Iraqi peoples, economic recovery, increasing trade exchange, providing investment opportunities, and constructive cooperation, are the most important axes through which Egypt’s strategy in its dealings with Iraq will proceed.
The second topic: The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime and its impact on the nature of Iraqi-Egyptian relations
The fall of the Iraqi regime headed by former President Saddam Hussein opened the door to efforts to settle Arab relations in general with Iraq and Egyptian relations in particular. In July 2004, the former Egyptian President, Mohamed Hosni Mubarak, received Dr. Iyad Allawi, head of the Iraqi interim government. President Mubarak also announced Egypt’s full support for the new Iraqi government and provided aid and assistance in rehabilitating the Iraqi police and restoring security discipline to the Iraqi street. Egypt was one of the first to bless the new government. Egypt was one of the highest Arab countries in trade exchange with Iraq.
The security situation represents the common denominator for all aspects of life in any country, and everyone agrees that the security situation in Iraq has cast a shadow on various aspects of life after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. The impact of this security situation resulted in the kidnapping and killing of the appointed Egyptian ambassador to Iraq, Ihab Al-Sharif, in July. 2005 by unknown gunmen, which had a profound impact on the Egyptian position and hurt relations with Iraq.
In 2007, relations returned and the conference of Iraq's neighboring countries, which Egypt adopted and called for in the city of Sharm El-Sheikh, succeeded, where the International Covenant document with Iraq was launched to support it.
In 2011, after the January Revolution, Iraq supported Egypt, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the time praised the peaceful transfer of power in Egypt. Following the June 2013 revolution, the Iraqi Prime Minister sent a congratulatory message to Counselor Adly Mansour, on the occasion of assuming his new position as interim president of Egypt, and expressed his aspiration for relations between both countries to witness further progress and prosperity.
With the arrival of the current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to power in Egypt in 2014, the ruling regime’s trends changed. The Egyptian President was not satisfied with the Gulf alliance, but rather sought to weave threads of new relations with other countries, beginning by knocking on the doors of Baghdad and courting its leaders, by launching an attack on the referendum that The Kurds called for it to secede from Iraq, after which Egypt began discussions to activate political ties with the Iraqi government, to increase trade exchange, which doubled in just three years from $800 million in 2015 to $1.65 billion in 2018.
The third section: Egyptian efforts to develop Iraqi lands
The current Egyptian efforts to develop Iraqi lands are represented in many projects that Egypt has begun to implement to advance Iraq and restore it to its regional position. The most prominent of these projects are the following: 1- Reconstruction project
The reconstruction cake was supposed to go to Iran, which controlled a large share of weapons and politics in Iraq after the American invasion. Leaked Iranian intelligence documents, published by the New York Times in 2019, reveal that Tehran asked former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to have the largest share in the reconstruction, given its major role in eliminating ISIS. Tehran was not satisfied with that, but sent an implicit warning to Iraq through its Foreign Minister in which it said: “If a European or American company decides to come to Iraq to carry out reconstruction work, the costs of that company to protect its workers and cadres will be more than what it intends to spend for reconstruction and construction.” In a veiled reference to the possibility of being targeted by Iraqi militias loyal to Tehran.
On the other hand, Egypt has benefited from the “oil for reconstruction” deal, as it currently obtains, under an agreement signed late last year, 12 million barrels annually of Basra Light crude at a price three dollars less than the global market average, in addition to exempting Egyptian goods from customs tariffs. Recently, Cairo prepared more for the deal by establishing a unit within the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce specialized solely in following up on Iraq’s reconstruction projects.
The Egyptian-Iraqi deal quickly bore fruit, after the two parties reached an agreement under which Egypt would export construction materials to Iraq at about one billion dollars annually. This means an additional loss for Iran, which has monopolized that market for years. After that, the seven largest Egyptian companies in the field of contracting have already obtained preliminary approval to work in Iraq, and the matter was not limited to the construction sector, as 14 Egyptian oil companies are also scheduled to work in the country.
Egypt possesses many capabilities that qualify it to assist Iraq in reconstruction, most notably extensive experience and surplus energy in the field of construction and building materials.
2- New Levant Project
Last August, Jordanian King Abdullah II received in the Jordanian capital both Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, in a tripartite summit aimed at expanding economic and trade cooperation between the three countries. The summit was viewed at the time in light of the so-called New Levant Project, which aims to link the countries participating in it through economic and political arrangements, coinciding with the regional transformations taking place in the Arab region. The project aims to extend an oil pipeline from Basra to the port of Aqaba in Jordan, and then to Egypt. Iraq will participate in the project by pumping its oil potential, and Jordan will offer its strategic location between Baghdad and Cairo to make the project a success, while Cairo will offer its human potential and technical expertise.
Through this project, Al-Kadhimi aims to present a different model for Iraq through which it confirms its independence from the axes it has relied on over two decades since the American invasion, in addition to the search for a new source of electricity that reduces Baghdad’s dependence on Iranian energy, and the search for a sea view across Egypt towards the Mediterranean. And Europe. Iraq is considered the second largest oil producer in OPEC after Saudi Arabia, with a daily average of 4.6 million barrels, and it aims to raise its production to exceed seven million barrels per day by 2025, which is the strength card on which the Iraqi government relies to restore stability to Iraq.
Cairo's gains from that project are no less than what Al-Kadhimi will gain, as the line itself will be an extension of several projects on which Cairo relies heavily, including the establishment of a landline to transport Egyptian labor and products to those Arab countries. Under the agreement, Iraq will import electricity from Egypt, reducing its dependence on supplies. Iranian energy. Baghdad currently imports 30-40% of its energy needs from Iran, which represents 80% of Iranian exports in the energy sector, and thus Iran will lose a significant share in this field as well, at a time when Cairo aspires to become a regional center for exporting electricity.
Aside from the economic gains of the project, the United States supports Iraqi rapprochement with Egypt and the Gulf states in general to reduce Iranian economic influence in Baghdad as much as possible and withdraw Iraq from the sphere of Iranian hegemony economically and politically. It will not be easy, of course, especially since Tehran holds important political and military strings in Baghdad that are difficult to overcome overnight. However, the Egyptian record in the Levant in general, which is far from engaging directly in the ongoing battles since the invasion of Iraq, and the significant decline in the popularity of Tehran, Ankara, and Riyadh due to their direct involvement in the conflicts, means that Cairo has a good starting point from which to chart a role for itself in Baghdad. It gradually exceeds cement plants and power lines. Perhaps the fact that an Egyptian team took over the restoration project of the Al-Nuri Mosque is an indication of the potential that Cairo has to play a greater political and cultural role over time. 3- The landline project between Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan
Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq announced “a landline to transport passengers between the three countries, with a ticket price of $130.” The Egyptian Minister of Transport, Kamel Al-Wazir, and the Jordanian Ambassador to Cairo, Amjad Al-Adaileh, confirmed that “the line aims to facilitate movement between the three countries, the movement of Egyptian workers to these countries, and the movement of students and scholars from these countries to Egypt.”
Kamel Al-Wazir and Al-Adayla discussed aspects of cooperation between the two sides. They also discussed ways to support trade between the two countries, by overcoming all obstacles at ports of arrival and facilitating the transport of Egyptian products to Jordan, and from there to Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria, as well as the necessity of developing the Arab Bridge Company (owned by Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq), and opening markets. A new one to serve the trade movement between the three countries and East African countries. The discussions also touched on “cooperation in the field of railways.”
Fourth section: Security challenges and combating terrorism
Egypt and Iraq went through difficult circumstances for the transition towards democracy. In the case of Iraq, this was done through external intervention, and in Egypt, two revolutions broke out that drained the country’s capabilities. In both countries, the transition towards democracy was not in a way free of difficulties and sacrifices, and at first glance, it appears very different from the first signs of the Arab Spring, which Distinguished by peace.
After the collapse of the ruling regimes, a range of security threats and dangers emerged during the transitional period, such as the activity of jihadist groups in Egypt. Egypt succeeded in combating terrorism, as it was able to achieve stability and security without compromising Egyptian human rights. The Egyptian experience represents a model that Egypt seeks to export to Iraq and other countries so that it can combat extremist organizations in addition to carrying out a broad development process at the same time.
ISIS is considered one of the greatest security challenges that faced the Arab countries following the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions. It is an armed organization that follows the ideology of Salafist jihadist groups, and its members aim to restore the Islamic caliphate and implement Sharia. Its members are present and their influence is spread mainly in Iraq and Syria, with reports of their presence in the regions of other countries. Such as South Yemen, Libya, and Sinai, and the current leader of this organization is Abu Ibrahim Al-Qurashi.
Iraq was considered a major headquarters for training and equipping ISIS fighters, as there were at least 10 camps to train those elements, but at present, and through recent developments, the organization has begun to falter as a result of directing many intensive security strikes on the organization’s strongholds and arresting many of its leaders.
The Kurds enjoy autonomy in northern Iraq, and the strength of the Kurdish organization contributed to the further deterioration of the situation in ISIS, as the American administration sought to arm the Kurds in Iraq and relied on them to confront ISIS. This was made clear through a draft resolution submitted to the American Congress allowing the arming of minorities, “Sunnis and Kurds.”
In December 2017, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that Iraqi forces had taken control of most of the Syrian-Iraqi border, and stressed the end of the war against ISIS in the country.
Section Five: President Sisi’s visit to Iraq
Last August, a conference was held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, in which Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
At this conference, Mr. Mustafa Al-Kadhimi stressed his country’s appreciation for the Egyptian efforts in support of the Iraqi issue at all levels and expressed his aspiration to strengthen cooperation frameworks with Egypt, whether at the bilateral level or within the framework of the tripartite cooperation mechanism with Jordan, to benefit from the inspiring Egyptian success experience on the level of cooperation. Building state institutions and achieving sustainable development and national projects and transferring them to Iraq, especially in the field of infrastructure and electric energy, as well as strengthening the areas of economic, trade, and investment cooperation, while valuing the Egyptian role in supporting Iraq, which represents strategic depth for his country at the regional and international levels, especially about By confronting common challenges, most notably combating terrorism and achieving security, stability, and development.
from his side; The President expressed his pride in visiting Baghdad again, which comes in support of the established principles of the Egyptian policy of supporting Iraq and maximizing its Arab national role, as well as providing full support to the Iraqi people at various levels, and helping them overcome all challenges, especially those related to their war on terrorism, and restoring security and stability. Whether within the framework of the tripartite cooperation mechanism with the sisterly Kingdom of Jordan or at the bilateral level through establishing a strategic partnership between the two brotherly countries based on integration and achieving common development goals, he also stressed the importance of accelerating the process of implementing joint projects between Egypt and Iraq, so that they keep pace with economic achievements. With its political counterpart between the two sides.
This meeting witnessed a discussion of the overall bilateral relations, especially following up on the executive position of bilateral cooperation projects in various fields, as well as following up on the implementation of projects emanating from the tripartite cooperation mechanism with Jordan, emphasizing in this context the necessity of building on the outcomes of the recent summit meeting in Baghdad in Last June.
The political and security situation in the region was also reviewed, in addition to developments in several regional issues of common concern, as well as the existing joint efforts between the two brotherly countries to combat terrorism and extremist ideology and establish the foundations of security and stability.
Najat Abdel-Qawy Aoun