GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Shatt al-arab: looking through the socio-legal prism into questions of identity
Paper Proposal Text :
Since the days of the Ottoman Empire, the border dispute on Shatt al-arab has tainted the ebb and flow of Arab–Iranian relations. This paper explores the dispute between Iran and Iraq from a social-legal perspective by dissecting the context of the dispute to its legal, historical and geo-political contexts. It argues that the dispute on Shatt al-arab extends beyond economic importance and conflicting territorial claims and disputes over navigation rights between Iran and Iraq, but it also spans over issues of identity assertiveness and pushing Arab-Persian rivalry agendas.
It then explores the dynamism of the status quo by reviewing the changes the dispute has implicated on the political map of the Gulf since the Iranian-Iraqi settlement. According to Dr Toby Dodge, Shatt al-Arab median line, which divided that waterway in half, was first agreed between the two countries in the 1970s. The two countries signed the Algiers Accord in 1975, which established the border along the thalweg. But, in September 1980 Saddam Hussein abrogated the treaty leading to the Iraqi-Iranian war in 1980s. Since then, Shatt al-arab dispute has acted as a catalyst for international diplomacy and manoeuvring in which various actors and agencies have partaken in numerous negotiations to ensure that Iranian-Iraqi interests are protected, whilst international interests are looked-after. Due to its weighty repercussion, regional players and international actors did intervene in the negotiation talks in an attempt to contain its spill over on regional and international security.
The Iraqi and Iranian governments have attempted to resolve the border dispute through diplomatic negotiations and external dispute management bodies which have generated numerous meaningful documents. But the basic position of both the countries on the border dispute remains unclear. Both sides have in several occasions agreed to press ahead with the frame-work negotiations in accordance with contested political parameters and unfinalised guiding principles so as to seek a fair and reasonable solution acceptable to them. Prior to that, both sides have agreed to work together to maintain peace in the border areas. However, events over the past decade have revived the deep concerns over the legal status and exact alignment of the median line to Shatt al-arab. In particular, it has become central to the dispute between Tehran and London over 15 Royal Navy personnel seized shortly by Iran's Revolutionary Guard in 2007.
This was not at no price. Whilst there is a steady improvement of the bilateral relations between the two neighbours, the consequences of this geopolitical rhetoric and strategic suspicion originating primarily from the unresolved border dispute is causing significant detriment on regional development on Shatt al-arab. This paper argues and explores how the ambiguous status of the demarcation of the waterway and the lack of a formal agreed boundary has caused significant implications on regional relations, infrastructural transformation and regional development of resources in Iran, Iraq and the rest of the Gulf.
Both countries must realise their fundamental national interests and key concerns, properly grip their differences, and pursue mutual development and a win-win situation. This paper proposes some alternative methods for management and possible future steps that could provide a healthier conflict management discourse.