Nuclear talks between the major powers and Iran that are to be held in Baghdad today have major implications for global security but also mark the latest step in Iraq’s emergence from isolation.
For years, an international pariah and then racked by horrific bloodshed in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of 2003 that left tens of thousands dead, Iraqi authorities have earmarked more than US$1 billion as part of wide-ranging efforts to boost the country’s profile, with mixed results.
“We are keen that Iraq takes on a role as a constructive, positive country that has a new character, different from the character established by [former Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein, which was about looking for power,” said Ali Mussawi, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “This meeting is an opportunity to showcase Iraq’s real face, as a country looking for stability and development. At the same time, I want to say that Iraq is not a marginal country — it is an important country and it has a positive role.”
The talks will see Germany join the veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — look to head off a dangerously escalating standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
Those talks are the latest example of Iraq pushing to host a variety of events to present itself to the world as a relatively stable country that is no longer rife with violence, but its attempts to do so have so far yielded uneven results.
While attacks remain common in Iraq, violence is sharply down from its peak in 2006 and 2007.
It did host a landmark Arab summit in March, the first such gathering to be held in Baghdad since Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, but much of the city was shut down and Iraqis complained of rising costs and little benefit to them from the refurbishment of upscale hotels and summit venues.
Plans for the Shiite holy city of Najaf to be the Islamic Capital of Culture this year, meanwhile, were canceled amid rampant delays and allegations of misallocated funds.
Combined, the two events were allocated about US$1 billion, with additional money earmarked for Baghdad to be Arab Capital of Culture next year.
Proposals for the southern port city of Basra to host next year’s soccer Gulf Cup have also been shelved, as participating nations did not accept Iraq’s guarantees of safety.
Even for the Iran talks today, initial concerns were raised by participating countries over Iraq hosting the event, both due to the violence of recent years and because of Baghdad’s close relationship with Tehran, whose nuclear program is the focus of the talks.
“It was people who hadn’t been to Baghdad, who thought: ‘We’re going to a war zone,’” a Western diplomat in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity. “It was just an initial reaction.”
The diplomat added, of the concerns over Iran’s influence on Iraq: “There was a tiny bit of that, but I think again, that’s just from a sort of fairly loose reading of regional politics.”
The Baghdad talks are not expected to produce spectacular results, so much of the focus will be on the fact that the Iraqi capital managed to host them at all.
Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano said he reached a deal with Iran on probing suspected work on nuclear weapons and adds that the agreement would “be signed quite soon.”