Iraq’s Persian Gulf neighbors supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in order to preserve the status quo--a weak and self-absorbed Iraq--rather than to impose a new one. However, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and its aftermath have not brought stability to the Gulf States as much as they have shifted the most serious challenges from external threats (of a hostile Baghdad) to internal threats (the threat of conflict spillover from Iraq).

This report is a part of the Iraq and Its Neighbors series.

Summary

  • Iraq’s Persian Gulf neighbors supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq in order to preserve the status quo--a weak and self-absorbed Iraq--rather than to impose a new one. However, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and its aftermath have not brought stability to the Gulf States as much as they have shifted the most serious challenges from external threats (of a hostile Baghdad) to internal threats (the threat of conflict spillover from Iraq).
  • Kuwait fears the growth of Iranian influence in Iraq and the possibility that Iraqi Shia unrest will spill across its own borders. Although many Kuwaitis question the wisdom and capacity of the United States in managing Iraq’s internal problems, Kuwait has provided significant support to U.S. military action in Iraq and the country’s reconstruction efforts.
  • Qatar has supported U.S. military actions in Iraq by hosting the U.S. Central Command but still maintains the perception of nonalignment. For example, Doha hosts prominent former Iraqi Baathists, not to mention Saddam’s own family members.
  • The interest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Iraq is secondary to its concern over Iran, with which it has a long-standing dispute over ownership of three islands in the Gulf. The unresolved dispute with Tehran over the islands heightens the UAE’s concerns about the rising Iranian influence in Iraq.
  • To bolster its relationship with the United States, the UAE offered training to hundreds of Iraqi troops and police recruits in 2004–2005, hosted the first Preparatory Group Meeting for the International Compact with Iraq in September 2006, and funded reconstruction efforts in Iraq through the United Nations and the World Bank.
  • On post-Saddam regional security issues, member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) seem to be more “market takers” than “market makers,” showing little inclination to shape the nature of a larger and potentially more powerful neighbor. Instead, they are focused on immediate choices for calibrating a proper relationship with Washington in a way that accommodates many other important relationships.

About the Report

Iraq’s neighbors are playing a major role—both positive and negative—in the country’s worsening crisis. As part of the Institute’s Iraq and Its Neighbors project, a group of leading specialists on the geopolitics of the region is assessing the interests and influence of the countries surrounding Iraq and the impact on U.S. bilateral relations. The Institute is also sponsoring high-level, nonofficial dialogue between Iraqi national security and foreign policy officials and their counterparts from the neighboring countries. The Marmara Declaration, released after the Institute’s most recent dialogue in Istanbul, sets forth a framework for a regional peace process. Jon Alterman’s report on the Gulf States is the fifth in a series of special reports sponsored by the Iraq and Its Neighbors project; Steve Simon’s study on Syria will be published in the coming months. Scott Lasensky, senior research associate at the Institute’s Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention and adjunct professor of government at Georgetown University, directs the Iraq and Its Neighbors project and authored the report on Jordan. Peter Pavilionis is the series editor.

Jon B. Alterman is a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Before joining CSIS, he was a member of the U.S. State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He also served as an expert on regional affairs for the Iraq Study Group, which was facilitated by USIP. Additional research for the report was provided by Hesham Sallam and Gregory Brosman at USIP and CSIS, respectively.

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