Once again, the Gulf nations have stepped up to offer more than their fair share of critical aid and investment to rebuild another war-torn country. While the destruction of Iraq happened under the watch of most international players, Gulf nations have donated the bulk of aid to help the devastated country pick up the pieces.
The UAE has pledged investments worth $5.5 billion (Dh20.22 billion) in the private sector and $500 million for reconstruction, Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said. Saudi Arabia has offered $1.5 billion in assistance, Kuwait $2 billion and Qatar $1 billion, officials said. While the contribution reflects overall generosity demonstrated by the Gulf states time and time again, through their aid to various conflict zones such as Yemen, Syria and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, it also serves to counter growing Iranian influence in Iraq.
Last year, Saudi Arabia made stringent efforts to repair damaged relations with Iraq and shore up their influence with their northern neighbour, after years of strained ties due to the strong Iranian hold on Iraq’s political scene. Already their efforts have been paying off as Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said last Wednesday that Iraq’s central government is becoming more independent and assertive.
Gulf countries have long complained of Iran’s expansionist policies in the region, setting up proxy militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. They have called for Iran to restore neighbourly relations with Arab countries and stop meddling in their internal affairs.
Perhaps Gulf states see a golden opportunity to diminish Iranian influence in Iraq at a time when Tehran is thinly-stretched, supporting its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria and Al Houthi militants in Yemen.
The economic challenges facing Iraq’s government are massive as entire cities have been reduced to rubble and the economic and psychological toll the war has taken on the country will be felt for years to come. This is where the aid can make a difference by setting up schools, creating employment opportunities through investment and rebuilding hospitals before its too late. Without a helping hand, Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunnis run the risk of falling back into extremist traps as experienced in 2014, when Daesh began exploiting the frustration to recruit followers.
The timing is critical and could not come a moment too soon.
The Iraqi people have suffered enough and now they need our help more than ever.