India and Iraq: Restoring the Old Warmth

The visit of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki to India this week marks the rapid acceleration of bilateral ties after Delhi's prolonged neglect of Baghdad. The resurgence of Iraq will not only contribute to India's energy security but also widen the basis of India's engagement with the volatile Gulf region.

Until the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime by the American invasion in early 2003, Iraq used to be India's closest partner in the Middle East. Iraq was a major source of oil imports and Baghdad gave very favourable financial terms.

The India-Iraq partnership was not limited to energy security. Indian public sector companies participated in a big way in Iraq's national construction in the oil boom of the 1970s.

The Indian armed forces had close contacts with their Iraqi counterparts. Saddam Hussein's Iraq also among the few countries in the OIC that stood up for India when Pakistan pushed hostile resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir. Above all India enjoyed extraordinary good will among the Iraqi people.

Delhi's well-rounded partnership with Baghdad began to fray amidst the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and Baghdad's international isolation after the first American Gulf war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in 1990.

After America's Second Gulf War in 2003 transformed the Iraq's political structure by empowering the nation's Shia majority, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government briefly considered the U.S. request to send a division of Indian troops to stabilise Iraq. While Vajpayee finally ruled against the proposal, the UPA government's neglect of Iraq that followed has been rather unfortunate.

Since 2003, Iraq slowly but certainly emerged out of a difficult period. As the new rulers of Baghdad opened Iraqi oil fields and economy for international investments, China and other major energy importers rushed in. But India seemed utterly distinterested. Fortunately that has begun to change in the last couple of years.

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