Interview: Nouri Al Maliki
What role does Jordan play for Iraq in the region and how can this relationship be enhanced?
NOURI AL MALIKI: Jordan holds an important role for Iraq for many reasons. First, Jordan’s location makes it a natural trade passageway between Iraq and the Red Sea. Second, Jordan has established a unique political role in the Middle East as a mediator and as a force for stability. Third, Jordan has achieved significant human and economic development in recent decades, setting an example that post-reconstruction Iraq can follow. Fourth, because Jordan and Iraq have similar public infrastructure requirements, Jordanian contractors and engineers are well positioned to support Iraqi reconstruction efforts. Ultimately, these points create a solid foundation on which closer ties can be established.
Of the bilateral agreements in place between the two countries which are the most significant?
AL MALIKI: Iraq and Jordan have signed a number of agreements that address a range of economic fields, with many more under consideration that are expected to enhance bilateral integration in the coming years. Some of these agreements are pending ratification from the Iraqi Council of Representatives, including the proposed free trade zone between the two nations and the planned treaty for the cross-border transport of passengers and commercial goods. Other draft agreements include one aimed at encouraging and protecting bilateral investment, and another with the purpose of avoiding tax duplication and preventing tax evasion.
What can each country gain from closer bilateral relations? In what areas is cooperation strongest?
AL MALIKI: Relations between Iraq and Jordan in the past were often worsened by the foreign policy of the former regime, which created crises and wars for political purposes. Iraq is now trying to close all cases involving the former regime that have negatively affected our relationship with Jordan and the international community. We have also launched multilateral efforts to promote regional security, prevent potential crises, and combat radicalism, terrorism and sectarianism.
Cooperation between Iraq and Jordan already exists on many levels, primarily because we have a range of mutual interests. Jordan’s business community has major investments in Iraq, and the Iraqi private sector has a considerable investment base in Jordan. This provides a solid foundation for stronger cooperation. Iraq, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, strongly encourages Jordanian investment to facilitate our modernisation and reform strategy.
Iraq stands to benefit from Jordan’s business and technological expertise across a wide range of sectors, including finance, banking, services, energy, industry, agriculture and transport, as well as human resources development and capacity building.
What do you think are the main challenges to closer integration in the region?
AL MALIKI: Complicated circumstances in the region impose challenges as regional countries determine their relationships in spite of the common interests among them. Integration would benefit all countries in the region, but political, social and economic factors have created two obstacles for closer relations. The first obstacle – inefficient government bureaucracy – has hindered regional cooperation and communication, as well as the flow of goods and capital across borders.
The second obstacle is rooted in the divergent developmental strategies of various countries in the region. Different national visions, as well as different approaches to development and reform, have produced weak, non-integrated economies that are highly susceptible to external forces. We are in need of a common regional development strategy based on three pillars: tolerance and mutual respect, respect for national sovereignty and a commitment to non-intervention in internal affairs, and a commitment to integration. Arab and Middle Eastern countries will best be able to achieve their development objectives by working in unison.
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