As the nations of the Middle East work to diversify their energy sources and lessen their reliance on a single provider or resource, the significance of energy security to regional stability has become steadily clearer. In particular, Iraq has made significant strides over the past half-decade in rethinking its regional energy policy—making significant cuts to its imports from Iran, which have faced a growing array of challenges in recent years with international sanctions against Tehran and domestic production shortages in the Islamic Republic. Conversely, Iraq has sought to normalize its imports of electricity from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states through the GCC-Iraq Electrical Interconnection Project, allowing Baghdad to access a variety of energy sources and improve the reliability of its electric grid. Recognizing the geopolitical and economic advantages that a robust regional energy network can provide is at the core of Iraq’s endeavor. Through greater domestic production, Iraq can also lessen its reliance on energy imports, while energy grid connections with neighboring states allow it to improve its regional collaboration and energy trading. The project will contribute to a better-integrated energy landscape by providing for the seamless flow of electricity across borders.
Strengthening the Grid
The development of a regional power grid has long been a goal of the Persian Gulf region’s oil producers. To some extent, this goal has already been achieved within the GCC states, which have collectively established a unique body to link their energy networks and guarantee a stable regional electricity supply. By joining this network, Iraq and Jordan, which both experience chronic electricity shortages, expect to stabilize their respective grids and ensure round-the-clock supplies to their citizens.
Iraq and Saudi Arabia jointly agreed to move forward with their electrical connectivity project last April. After the project’s completion, Iraq anticipates improved electricity supply, higher energy security, and stronger commercial ties between Baghdad and Riyadh. As part of the Saudi-Iraqi project, a high-voltage transmission line will be built, allowing for the exchange of electricity, and fostering international collaboration in the energy sector.
By enabling the flow of electricity during moments of high demand and shortages, the interconnection project is expected to significantly decrease the prevalence of blackouts in Iraq—the prevention of which has been one of the most visible failings of the unsteady Iraqi government. To be sure, significant challenges remain before the project can be completed; the need to secure investment, ensure technical integration, and coordinate activities across participating nations are only a few of the difficulties and complications that must be resolved before the project is completed. The project is also viewed as a chance to increase economic integration, commerce, and investment, as well as to support the use of renewable energy and diversify energy sources for long-term sustainability.
In addition to the Saudi-Iraqi interconnection project, the Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority (GCCIA) issued contracts totaling $220 million in February 2022 to carry out a significant project in energy linkages between the GCC and Iraq. Moreover, in August 2022, Qatar and Iraq signed a Grid Interconnection Agreement, intended to improve energy cooperation and support the country’s efforts to diversify its energy supply. Although Qatar and Iraq do not directly border each other, complicating efforts to connect their electrical grids, the agreement is nonetheless expected to boost Iraq’s economic growth and improve its energy security. The agreement also highlights Qatar’s constructive diplomatic and commercial ties with Iraq and the two countries’ shared commitment to advancing regional energy connectivity.
Pulling the Plug on Iran
At the present, Iraq relies heavily on importing energy and natural gas from Iran to make up for its shortage of domestic production—although Iran’s supplies to Iraq have increasingly been jeopardized by its inability to provide enough gas to its own power plants. Moreover, the United States is pressuring Iraq to suspend imports of electricity and gas from Iran, which violate U.S. sanctions and require periodic waivers that successive U.S. administrations have been increasingly reluctant to grant. Iraq has an interest in reducing its dependence on electricity imports from Iran, and the GCC-Iraq Electrical Interconnection Project is crucial to achieve this.
Under the terms of the deal signed between Iraq and Saudi Arabia in July 2022, Riyadh agreed to provide Baghdad with 1,000 megawatts of electricity via shared power infrastructure. This initiative represents Iraq’s aspirations to build a cooperative energy infrastructure with Saudi Arabia to lessen its reliance on energy imports from Iran. Indeed, although nominally free from political considerations, the Saudi-Iraqi project is intrinsically tied to regional geopolitics and the competition between Saudi Arabia and Iran within Iraq. This rivalry has strategic implications for Iraq’s electrical industry, highlighting the importance of finding alternate energy sources and the interconnectivity project.
By connecting the electrical grids of the GCC nations and Iraq, the GCC-Iraq Electrical Interconnection Project seeks to increase energy security and regional stability. The geopolitics of the Gulf region, as well as regional stability and energy security, are all likely to be impacted by this project. The development encourages collaboration and integration among the Gulf nations, which could have positive consequences for regional stability.
Crucially, the initiative lessens reliance on a single supplier for electricity, improving the security of Iraq’s power grid. This interconnected nature of the future grid has two benefits; it offers flexibility during “peak hours,” when Iraq’s existing energy infrastructure is uniquely vulnerable to blackouts, and it enhances protection against other disturbances—a meaningful way to ensure stability given Iraq’s volatile political situation. Moreover, the GCC-Iraq Electrical Interconnection Project promotes links between the GCC nations and Iraq from a geopolitical perspective. By establishing a more balanced energy environment in the area and minimizing reliance on certain energy corridors or politically delicate supply channels, the initiative also lessens energy vulnerabilities and potential political problems.
In summary, the GCC-Iraq Electrical Interconnection Project has the potential to have a significant positive impact on geopolitics, energy security, and regional stability. This project helps to create a more secure and stable energy environment in the Gulf region by boosting cooperation, diversifying energy sources, and fortifying economic linkages. It ultimately supports the stability and prosperity of the participating nations by enhancing not only energy resilience, but also economic growth and regional connectivity.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.