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Ever since American forces were withdrawn from Iraq, political instability and violence have spiraled across different parts of the country; this instability can be attributed to the fact that various sectarian and political factions are fighting for influence and power. There are concerns that the instability witnessed in Iraq is likely to have an impact on every country in the region. Various international relations scholars agree that the United States invasion of Iraq and the subsequent tumbling of Saddam regime have had significant impacts on security within the Gulf region by affecting the balance power distributed among Iran, Iraq and the countries belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council.
The tumbling of the Saddam administration and the subsequent instability in Iraq has played a pivotal role in propelling Iran to the ranks of a regional power, which is seen as posing significant threat to GCC countries. The future of Iraq is likely to be affected by a myriad of complex global, regional and internal dynamics (economic, social, political and security). It has been suggested that Iraq is likely to plunge into a civil war. It has also been implied that Iraq can develop into a dictatorship that is aligned with Iran, which is perceived to be aggressive. As a result, the instability in Iran is a significant issue of concern of GCC countries if they are after preventing the domination of Iran in the Gulf Region. This paper explores the impacts of instability in Iraq on diplomacy within the GCC countries.
The first impact can be perceived through the lens of Iraq as a likely threat to GCC nations following the withdrawal by the United States. With respect to this, the collapse of the Saddam Hussein’s regime affected the regional power balance that existed between Iran and Iraq, something that is considered a significant threat to the GCC nations. The invasion of Iraq by the US and the subsequent political instability have played a significant role in spilling internal issues in Iraq to the larger Gulf region and have also helped in propelling Iran to the ranks of a regional hegemony. It is evident that efforts aimed at turning Iraq into a democracy after the fall of Saddam and thus enhancing stability in the Gulf region have been futile. It has not been possible to achieve functional democracy in Iraq because of two main reasons which include Iraq’s unending struggle aimed at establishing a novel national identity and an ill governance platform that has been ineffective in producing social and economic stability.
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Iraq enjoyed temporary stability which vanished after the withdrawal of American troops; currently, the country is characterized by sectarian and internal unrest, which is posing a significant challenge towards building effective social and economic stability. The instability witnessed in Iraq is likely to develop into an internal civil war that may have implications on the multilateral and bilateral dealings among GCC countries. The underlying argument is that the instability being witnessed in Iraq is may result in an internal civil war, which is likely to endanger the security in the Gulf Region and provide an opportunity through which outside forces can exploit and attempt to influence Iraq’s security through projecting the country towards ethnic armed and civil sectarian conflict.
The second viewpoint through which instability in Iraq is likely to affect diplomacy in GCC is through the probability of an alignment between an aggressive Iran and Iraq dictatorship. There are several contributing factors to the possibility of this alignment, which is likely to have an impact on the manner in which GCC countries will relate with Iraq and Iran. Some of these factors include the ambitions of Iran to be a regional power, the internal conflict in Syria, the role of the United States in the region, the oil, social and economic challenges faced by Iraq, and the inter-sectarian and ethnic dynamics in Iran. The regional constellations are likely to push Iraq to aligning itself with an ambitious Iran. Other factors that are likely to accelerate the alignment include the conflict in Syria (which is posing a threat to inner security in Iraq), the ambition of Turkey to develop into a regional power, and probability of Kurdish secession.
These factors are playing a significant role in compelling Iraq to forge closer bilateral ties with Iran; in addition, the political circumstances associated with the relationship between Iran and GCC countries favor the possibility of Iraq being aligned to Iran. Iran has been recognized to have regional power ambitions, and its behavior in the larger Middle East and the Gulf region is causing fear among GCC nations including their attitudes towards the instability currently witnessed in Iraq. The GCC fears are further compounded by the fact that the collapse of Saddam Hussein regime propelled the position of Iran within the Gulf Region. An inference from this observation is that instability in Iraq is increasing the possibility of Iraq-Iran alignment, which GCC countries perceive as a boost of Iran’s influence in the region; as a result, these fears have increased the unity between GCC countries with the primary objective of countering the influence of Iran within the region.
There is no doubt that Iraq is currently facing serious instability following the withdrawal of American forces. Despite the fact that central government is trying to make Iraq a functional democracy, there are social, ethnic, and sectarian dynamics that are likely to have an impact on the volatile peace within the Gulf region. The instability in Iraq is possible to spill over to neighboring countries and have implications for the broader Gulf region, which poses the need for GCC countries to adopt apt measures to address the instability witnessed in Iraq. There are two possibilities: Iraq might plunge into a civil war, or align itself with an ambitious and aggressive Iran. All these potential outcomes are likely to have an impact on diplomacy within GCC. In addition, the instability in Iraq is creating an opportunity of exploiting for Iran in order to achieve its ambitions of becoming a regional power, something that has strengthened cooperation between GCC countries in an attempt to counterbalance the growing influence of Iran.
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