An Opportunity for Cooperation among D-8 members: Iran, Turkey Can Save Iraq and Syria Economically

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Manouchehr Shafiei
Senior Analyst of International Relations

There is always a direct relationship between economic conditions and political calm both at regional and national levels. Absence of suitable economic conditions, which usually can affect the life of any human population, is among those factors, which can lead to political dissatisfaction, social gaps, and finally, breakout of violent political actions. At regional level, such conditions can also cause gaps and make cooperation among political units difficult while providing a suitable ground for the spread of political unrest from one unit to another as well.


Weak economy, common denominator between Iraq and Syria

The ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria are not without connection to economic factors. Between years 2000 and 2010, Syria was faced with a period of economic reconstruction in parallel to which the country saw deterioration in situation of its resources. During that period, the government of Syria focused on urban development and economic liberalization. This came at a time that the country’s rural areas were afflicted with a five-year drought spell during which perspiration fell sharply and these conditions had a strong negative effect on economic structure of the country. As a result of that drought, 800,000 Syrian people lost their jobs and hundreds of thousands were forced to immigrate to cities. The inability of the Syrian government in answering their needs caused further deepening of people’s dissatisfaction, which had been already caused by the country’s economic and environmental crisis. That dissatisfaction paved the way for the ongoing crisis in the Arab country. On the other hand, Iraq’s economy had practically become bankrupt as a result of long years of economic sanctions as well as three consecutive wars. This situation finally led to rising unemployment, economic deprivation for large groups of people, and political dissatisfaction as a result of which the way was cleared for a surge in sectarianism and a suitable opportunity was provided for the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group to infiltrate into the country.

The negative economic effects that these two crises have had on these countries did not remain limited to their respective countries, that is, Syria and Iraq. After extremism spilled over into Turkey and terrorist operations hit the country on various occasions, Turkey, for its turn, lost more than 10 million foreign tourists in 2016 compared to 2015. On the other hand, the influx of Syrian refugees has had negative economic consequences like increased inflation rate in those regions of the country, which have been hosting foreign refugees. The Islamic Republic of Iran has mobilized its potential to become victorious in the war of Iraq and Syria and is also paying a price for fighting against terrorism.

Even after terrorist groups are defeated in the aforesaid two countries, the negative impact of their activities will continue to weigh on the economies of Iraq and Syria. The state of uncertainty surrounding security situation in both countries is sure to restrict investment in the two countries while long years of war and widespread devastation have destroyed the two countries’ economic infrastructure leaving the two governments of Iraq and Syria unable of rebuilding that infrastructure. Therefore, continued economic weakness in these two countries portends a tumultuous future for them and the entire Middle East region. These conditions will be translated into widespread joblessness and poverty as a result of which severe dissatisfaction with governments will pave the way for emergence of more political crises and turn those countries into a good breeding ground for extremism.


D-8 member states can save Iraq and Syria

Despite political differences, which exist among member states of D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation and differences in the form of governance in those countries, they can still draw on their common grounds in order to save Syria and Iraq, and make revival of these two countries’ economies possible by taking advantage of various economic models. The group of eight developing Islamic countries, which is known as the D-8, was established in 1997 on the basis of a proposal offered by then Turkish prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan. This organization is made up of Iran, Turkey, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nigeria and its goal is to promote economic and trade cooperation in order to boost global standing of these eight countries. Trade, agriculture, food security, transportation, energy, mining, health and tourism have been mentioned as the main fields of cooperation among member state of the D-8.

Under current conditions in Iraq and Syria, these countries can also find a good opportunity to exercise cooperation and develop it by relying on their tangible and real interests and also by avoiding any effort that would stoke artificial crises. The current conditions in Syria and Iraq are such that Western countries are not willing to invest in these two countries due to security risks and ambiguous outlook of investment there. However, due to Islamic common grounds that member states of the D-8 have with these two countries and because of their influence in the region, they can control security crises and prevent emergence of artificial crises, thus restoring relative security to economic sphere of these two countries. Such cooperation can take place within framework of four models.


Economic cooperation and preventing growth of terrorism are common cooperation grounds for D-8 countries

Economy and common threats are two common factors, which have been introduced in theories of international relations as major factors for cooperation among countries. Cooperation on the basis of economic factors paves the way for gaining profits while cooperation on the basis of risk factors prevents countries from suffering the costs that they would suffer in the absence of cooperation. Such countries as Iran, Turkey and Egypt have so far lost many economic opportunities due to not cooperating in the ongoing crises in Iraq and Syria, and have also suffered security costs of non-cooperation. However, they can now bank on these two factors and avoid stoking crisis in order to clear the way for further cooperation. This cooperation would be possible between member states of the D-8, on the one hand, and the two countries of Iraq and Syria, on the other hand, within four models of cooperation.

The first model requires D-8 countries to focus on their economic interests or on preventing emergence of new terrorist threats, and establish multinational companies within borders of Syria and Iraq. Due to the current economic conditions that prevail in Iraq and Syria, these countries can start joint economic projects in those countries at a very economical cost. Starting such activities may not be very economical in every one of D-8 countries due to high wages and special economic conditions in those countries.

According to the second model, member states of the D-8 can invest in these two countries individually and then use their influence and capabilities to prevent growth of artificial crises. The requisite for achieving this goal is to clearly define spheres of influence and investment among member countries in order to help them avoid unnecessary rivalry and disputes. Such spheres are currently defined in a vague manner. For example, Turkey has been successful in gaining economic influence in Sunni dominated parts of these countries while Iran has bolstered its influence in those parts that are dominated by Shia Muslims.

In the third model, member states of the D-8 can make investment outside these two countries within framework of common economic projects and then take advantage of Syrian and Iraqi manpower as human factor for production. This issue will also help the governments in both Syria and Iraq to take direct advantage of benefits of such economic activities and it will be also instrumental in increasing gross domestic product of these countries.

According to the fourth model, member states of the D-8 can take part in reconstruction projects in Syria and Iraq with the goal of reaping long-term economic benefits and controlling the ongoing crises in these countries. This model can help revive the economy of Syria and control economic grounds that foster crises in these two countries.

Due to conditions that they can create to pave the way for further cooperation among countries, all the aforesaid four models will establish links among interests of countries, which get involved in such cooperation, and will also prove to them that preserving the regional security is the best possible option for making progress and ensuring secure profits in long term. On the opposite, lack of cooperation among these countries can entail hefty security and economic costs for them both in long and short terms. Countries involved in this model do not need to first completely overcome their marginal differences in order to get engaged in cooperation. However, they will need to focus on the crises in Syria and Iraq as good grounds for getting their viewpoints closer together, and after achieving real results, expand their cooperation to other common areas as well.

*Photo Credit: IRdiplomacy
*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.


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