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The Iraqi government of Nouri Al Maliki agreed last week to provide Egypt with about four million barrels of oil. The development comes after the visit of Egyptian PM Hesham Gendel to Iraq, which was the first by a top Egyptian official in thirty years. The Iraq-Jordan pipeline, that ends at Al Aqaba port, will be used to supply the crude oil. Egypt has been in the throes of a financial crisis since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. The deal will help fill the gap in Egypt’s diesel production, which is 22,000 tonnes per day whereas the daily consumption is 35,000 tonnes.
Al Maliki also decided to release 33 Egyptian prisoners in his country and both sides have agreed to look at ending Egyptian debts, recruiting Egyptians for work in Iraq. Obviously, Al Maliki is eager for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood government since the relations faced problems during the era of President Jamal Abdul Naser, Al Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, and due to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the assassination of Egyptian ambassador Eyhab Al Sharif in Baghdad in 2005. Maliki is seeking to gain the trust of Muslim Brotherhood and win its support for his stance on Arab Spring, especially on Syria.
He wants to build Arab support for his initiative which aims at bringing Bashar Al Assad and his opponents to the negotiating table.
The Government of Al Maliki has been resisting the overthrow of Syrian regime and, with support from Iran, opened its border to Shia extremist groups to fight alongside the Syrian regime forces. Also, it has allowed Iranian aircraft to use its airspace to fly to Syria, said news agencies.
Both Iraq and Egypt stand to benefit from the oil deal. The government of Brotherhood is struggling to overcome the financial crisis, where they are exploring the possibility of using the Iran-Syria closeness to exert pressure on the US to get a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). At the same time, Al Maliki is keen on winning Egyptian support to solve the Syrian problem to protect the interests of Iran and the Assad regime.
Egypt has the right to decide its priorities. Therefore, it’s not surprising to see it leaning towards Iraq on some Arab issues, including Syria.
But we should not rush to conclusions. Let us see how the relations will evolve, and what positions they will take in the forthcoming Arab summit in Doha, especially on the issue of granting membership to the Syrian National Council in Arab League.