A pedestrian passes a construction site for residential properties in Chitgar Park, north-west of Tehran, Iran. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)  

Gulf Arabs Seen Trying to Curb Iran Influence With Iraq Aid

(Bloomberg) -- Gulf nations pledged billions of dollars in financial support to help Iraq rebuild after its war to defeat Islamic State, in what may be an effort to counter Iranian influence there.

The United Arab Emirates pledged investments of $5.5 billion in the private sector and $500 million for reconstruction, the country’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said. Saudi Arabia offered $1.5 billion in assistance, Qatar $1 billion and Kuwait $2 billion, officials said.

“We are seeing a stronger Iraqi central government,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir said Wednesday at the conference in the opulent Bayan Palace south of Kuwait City. “We are seeing an Iraqi government that is asserting its authority over all parts of Iraq, and we encourage that.”

The economic challenges facing Iraq’s government are massive. The conference, however, only raised $30 billion in pledges, a far cry from the $88 billion sought by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari said he for one was satisfied. The amount offered on Wednesday was “not inconsiderable,” he said. “$30 billion can make a lot of difference.”

Clear Sign

Gulf states wary of Iran’s growing power in the region, and specifically in Iraq, may see the financial support as a way to diminish that sway. During the three-and-half-year war with Islamic State, Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government was buoyed by assistance from neighboring Iran, which sent powerful militias to join the fight against the Sunni jihadists.

“It is clear they want to gain greater influence and counter Iran as it faces increasing uncertainty and pushback in Iraq and the region,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington. “It could prove to be a smart move depending on what they end up directing the money towards, and what the people and power in Iraq see this as.”

The Islamic Republic, which was represented at the event by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, didn’t pledge any fresh support.

The mainly Sunni Arab nations watched with anxiety as Iranian influence increased as power shifted from minority Sunnis to majority Shiites with ouster of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 in a U.S.-led invasion. Saudi Arabia intervened military in Yemen in 2015 to prevent the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthis from taking over the country.

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