April 1, 2010

Post-Saddam ties among Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan - By Baqi Barzani

What are the roots and aims of Iran's foreign policy in post-invasion Iraq? Many scholars attribute Iran's policies to a desire to achieve national and regional interests, perceiving this policy to be mainly offensive and ideological. [1] Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran has sought to shape and influence the post-Saddam political structure to Iran's advantage, although Tehran couches its policies in terms of friendship with Iraq and humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. [2] Candidly, the same rule applies to every other actor in vista.

Iran�s effort to manipulate Iraqi surrogates predates the 2003 U.S. military operations. During the 1980s and 1990s, Iran helped organize and finance ISCI's predecessor, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and its Badr Corps Militia. It also worked closely with elements of the Islamic Dawah Party and helped train and fund its militant wing.[3] Iran can not remain indifferent to the fate of Shiite population in Iraq.

Iran has various political, economic, ideological and political interests in further boosting ties with Iraq. A major part of Iranian foreign policy toward the new Iraq is influenced by a troubled history of competition and disproportionate Sunni dominance over Iraq's natural resources, potential economic strength and key geographical position. Iran's security has always faced a considerable challenge from the ethno-political divisions that characterize the Iraqi polity. [4] Preserving Iraq's territorial integrity in the face of these complexities will remain one of Iran's main security concerns. At present, the chief aim of Iran's policy in post-invasion Iraq is to maintain Iraq's national unity and the past unresolved issues: (the issue of war compensation; and second, the 1975 Algiers Treaty). How the future Iraqi government deals with these state-related issues is important for Iran.

While, Iran prefers a decentralized form of government and autonomy for the Shiite in South something analogous to the Kurdish autonomous region in Kurdistan in order to hold its grip in the internal affairs and policies, Iran is totally against the notion of Iraq's fragmentation even it implies the creation of an independent Shiite clerical state, fearing polarization within its own population.

Maliki maintained good relations with Tehran and Iranian leaders during his premiership, notably Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The relationship bolstered an extent that in the run-up to the elections, Maliki visited Iran four times as Prime Minister to consult on major issues and to sign agreements. The visits were: September 13-14, 2006, resulting in agreements on cross border migration and intelligence sharing; August 8-9, 2007, resulting in agreements to build pipelines between Basra and Iran's city of Abadan to transport crude and oil products for their swap arrangements (finalized on November 8, 2007); June 8, 2008, resulting in agreements on mine clearance and searches for the few Iran-Iraq war soldiers still unaccounted for; and January 4-5, 2009, primarily to explain to Iran the provisions of the U.S.-Iraq pact but also to continue Iraqi efforts to buy electricity from Iran.[5] In March 2008, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became the first Iranian president to visit Iraq since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani just returned from Iran after in a meeting by the heads of states of the Nowruz celebrating countries. As of January 2010, the two countries signed over 100 economic and cooperation agreements. [6] According to some estimates, bilateral trade between the two countries surpassed four billion dollar in 2009.

Since 2003, most Iraqi Shiite leaders, parliamentarians and ministers have maintained close bonds with Iranian regime. The leader of Iraq's largest Shia party, Ammar al-Hakim, says Baghdad does not allow conditioning of improved ties with neighboring Arab states to discounting warm relations with Iran. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in a press conference in May 2006 that Iraq recognizes Iran�s right to peaceful nuclear technology. [7]

Hamid Reza Dehghani, director of the Center for Persian Gulf and Middle East Studies at the foreign ministry's think-tank writes: The main strategic advantages of Iran�s relationships with Shia movements are the "installation of a new generation of friendly elites at the level of states, who have no backgrounds or feeling of enmity toward Iran." The Shia government in Iraq, according to the author, was the "turning point" in putting the "Shia factor" at the center of Iran's foreign policy. [8]

This echoes the precise agenda of US administration, establishing the fact that Iraq has veered to a battlefield for proxy wars among foreign powers. Control over Iraqi oil and energy market, installation of pro-western, pro-eastern friendly puppet regimes and containment of any secessionist aspirations are the only goals of benefactor regional and international power.

Any cementing and mushrooming of ties between Iraq and Iran can not thrive without direct participation and involvement of the Kurds. Any military, political and commercial relationship between the two countries will definitely leave its impact on Kurdistan, as well.  Recent Nichirvan Barzani's visit with Turkish foreign minister and other senior Turkish officials is indicative of this reality. The neighboring countries have inferred that without direct dialogue and cooperation of the Kurds, many of their concerns can not be attained and resolved.

Given the US odium toward Iranian radical theocratic regime, its protracted standoff over Iran�s nuclear proliferation program, world global sanctions and isolation, Kurdistan needs to re- weigh up its position and ties between Iran. While maintaining good neighborly ties with any adjoining country is imperative to Kurdistan's political, security and economic prosperity, distancing ourselves further from some of our western allies is even more dearly and pernicious to our interests.

In a joint statement in September of 2008, Foreign Minister Zebari issued a statement with the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),[9] Egypt, Jordan, and the United States, calling for Iran�s assurance that it is not seeking nuclear weapons and reiterating the Non-Proliferation Treaty's obligations to cooperate fully with the IAEA. [10]

Iran's absolute possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction, its long-range missile capability and accession to feasible nuclear weapons in future if not curtailed, determined to be used against US interests in Iraq in case of a war breakup, can menace regional stability, primarily Kurdistan. Above all, it was the western countries, mainly the United States who toppled Saddam for whatever grounds, not the Iranian regimes that toppled the republic of Mohabat. Kurdish Regional Government needs to re-assess its bonds with the fickle Islamic Republic.


[1] Iran's Foreign Policy in Post-invasion Iraq"
   Journal Article, Middle East Policy, volume XV, issue 4, pages
[2] Iran's Activities and Influence in Iraq
[3] Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Politics and "Other Means"
[4] Iran's Foreign Policy in Post-invasion Iraq"
     Journal Article, Middle East Policy, volume XV, issue 4, pages 47-58
[5] Iran's Activities and Influence in Iraq
[6] 'Iran, Iraq have signed 100 economic agreements'
    Iraq's Hakim: Ties with Iran priority
    Iran's Regional Power Rooted in Shia Ties
[9] The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the  
     United Arab Emirates.
[10] �Joint Statements By Gulf States, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, US: Ministers
       Reaffirm Commitment To Promote


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