Opinion

Military diplomacy with
Iraq

Deputy Defense Minister Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin visited Iraq last August. Although the visit only lasted 30 hours, it had a strong diplomatic value, handing Indonesia a golden opportunity to gain an advantage.

The diplomatic visit was considered a success because there were two advantages that could be gained. The first advantage was from an Indonesia-Iraq military cooperation perspective, the second, from the perspective of the two countries’ economic cooperation.

The fact that Sjafrie was personally accepted by the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who is also the Supreme Commander of Iraq, indicated that Iraq viewed Indonesia in a respectable light. The meeting discussed two issues: How to boost defense cooperation, especially in military equipment supplies, and how to set up economic cooperation between the two countries.

Being a country in the throes reconstruction after undergoing war and occupation, Iraq has just reached a level of political consolidation. Assigning authority among the three major ethnic and religious groups — Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds — will at least diminish suspicion among groups in society.

Iraq President Jalal Talabani is a powerful representative of the Kurds in the north. On the other hand, Maliki is the representative of the Shia, which is the biggest group in Iraq. Sunnis are represented by the Chairman of the Iraqi Parliament Usama Al-Nujayfi.

It cannot be denied that the Saddam Hussein loyalists cannot accept the fact that they have lost their power. In 24 years of his reign, Saddam had built a large and powerful group. Since the coalition’s offensive began in 2003, America’s arrogance and dominance in Iraq has hurt the Iraqi people and thus given an opportunity to Saddam’s group.

That is the reason why the Maliki government needs other countries that can weaken the domination of America. So far, China, Japan and South Korea have been aggressive in taking advantage of opportunities in the areas of trade and investment.

In the meeting, Maliki, who was accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Hussain Al-Shahristani, asked Indonesia to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. He said it was necessary to build an active economic committee together to follow up on the agreement. The Prime Minister also expressed hope that the cooperation would not stop at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, but would instead proceed and be implemented.

Oil-rich Iraq, with a current production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day (which will increase to between 7 and 10 million barrels in 2016), is interested in increasing its trade volume and investment as the country’s necessities are dependent on imports. Al-Shahristani specifically invited Indonesia’s state oil company, Pertamina, to join in the exploration and production of oil in Iraq, while citing that Iraq was eager to give Pertamina concessions.

With its dependency on imports, Iraq not only needs agricultural products to supply the needs of its people, but also other products, such as textiles. The post-war Iraqi reconstruction is therefore a chance for Indonesia’s construction companies to gain an advantage.

Apart from oil and investment, military consolidation is also homework that Iraq is undertaking. As the pillar of the country’s defense forces, Iraq has to reunite its army that was once divided into pro and anti-Saddam factions.

Chief of staff of the Iraqi Army Gen. Babaker Baderkhan Shawkat Zebari is responsible for military consolidation, which includes the provision of military equipment and supplies. Currently, the Iraqi army mostly uses military equipment left behind by the coalition. But, this will soon need renewing.

Indonesia does have the capacity to meet Iraq’s needs for its military equipment. Iraqi Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Mohan Hafedz Hamad has shown interest in the military products of PT Pindad, which has produced Anoa armored vehicles, short-barreled and long-barreled weapons, as well as non-combatant products such as army uniforms, helmets, shoes and halal rations for soldiers.

In such a free trade era, military diplomacy can be useful, not only in defense, but also in economic cooperation. Indonesia can use this opportunity to strengthen its economic position, in addition to developing its strategic industry, including
military equipment and warfare.

The writer is a journalist.

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