Monday, December 8, 2008

Will the Baghdad Pact be resurrected?

Will the Baghdad Pact be resurrected?
By Ahmad Mustafa, Special to Gulf News
Published: December 07, 2008, 23:31
In an editorial, UK daily The Times commented on the conclusion of the Iraq-US security deal as a positive step for the region and the US. The paper concluded that: "The agreement on US troop withdrawal marks a turning point that ought to be recognised by Iraq's neighbours. It is time Arab governments embraced the new democracy in Iraq ... and ceased using Iraq as a pretext to whip up antagonism towards America."
We have been hearing these calls for Arab countries to get involved with Iraq for a long time, and leading 'moderate' Arab countries responded to American pressure by high-profile visits to the Green Zone in Baghdad, restoring full diplomatic representation there and writing-off Iraqi debts.
But it seems that the full Arab support required by the occupation before it leaves Iraq has not yet been achieved. For the US and the UK, Arabs are not yet embracing the "Iraqi Example" as a success that should be followed in the region.
Hegemony under threat
After invasion, and during the occupation of Iraq, Washington and London have been trying to procure Arab support to the "change" made in the country. But the disastrous situation in Iraq made many in the region reluctant to drag their feet in, though they did not stand against the occupation as such.
As the new deal means the "technical" end of occupation by the end of UN mandate in less than a month, an Arab gathering around Iraq reminds us of another grouping that failed half a century ago.
A strong American, and possibly British, security relationship with "'new" Iraq would be more strategically viable through synergy with US military influence elsewhere in the region.
The basis for a military pact in the region is mature, given the military cooperation between the US and Turkey, American military presence or facilitations in some Arab countries and its formidable relationship with Israel.
Forget about the illusive slogans of democratisation and progressive change, the main motive is military and strategic hegemony by a superpower afraid of the possibility that its international influence could dwindle under the current global economic crisis. That brings back memories of the above mentioned pact in 1955, when the British wanted to make up for losing India by consolidating its influence in the Middle East.
The Baghdad Pact was first adopted by Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The US could not join for internal reasons, but supported the pact and promised help.
The 1955 Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO) was originally named Middle East Treaty Organisation (METO) and latter modelled on the current Nato formula.
The Baghdad Pact failed in the face of a sweeping independence movement in the region, led by Egypt under Jamal Abdul Nasser.
During the last half century, things changed dramatically in the region to the point that main players are now pro-American and have no problem in military cooperation with Washington.
The aim of the Baghdad Pact was to get as many Arab countries as possible to join it, and it failed with even the only Arab country (Iraq) leaving it in 1959.
Nasserite Egypt was blamed for the failure of the joint British-American effort. But Egypt now is a US ally and bound by a peace treaty with Israel - the spearhead of the Western influence in the region. Nationalist trends are almost dead amid regional rivalries that sometimes reached the point of regional wars between Arab countries.
One of the side-effects of American military withdrawal from Iraq could be that the new administration of Barack Obama will turn more attention towards settling the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
What is not being said, but can be understood implicitly, is that it would make it easier for Israel to be part of a new pact in the region. That would make up for the absence of Iran - at least for now.
It might not necessarily be another Baghdad Pact, but the essence is the same. Incorporating Turkey, Iraq, the Gulf and Egypt - possibly even Israel after a peace treaty with Syria and the Palestinians - in a sort of Nato-style formula sponsored by the US and supported by Europe, would achieve what the old Empire failed to do half a century ago.
Dr Ahmad Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.

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