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Iran's Foreign Policy in the New Iraq

Monday, March 8, 2010

Kayhan Barzegar, CSR Publication, Summer 2007, 292 pages

Active ImageKayhan Barzegar, Faculty Member, Science and Research University (IAU); Senior Research Fellow and Director, International Affairs, Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, Tehran

     Iran's Foreign Policy in the New Iraq was written with an eye to understanding the place of the new Iraq in Iran's foreign policy. According to the book, during the past four decades, Iraq has imposed the greatest regional security and political challenges to Iran. The overthrow of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq and the emergence of new socio–political developments in this country have caused significant changes in the nature and characteristics of the power and political structure in Iraq. These changes and developments have been interpreted as important turning points in the relations between Iran and Iraq. In other words, it is the first time that emphasis on commonalities and taking advantage of joint opportunities, along with the recognition of existing challenges have been defined as major criteria for establishing Iran’s relationship with Iraq. The emergence of some new variables is the logical cause and reason for the increasing importance of the new Iraq in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Some of these criteria are as follows: the introduction and empowerment of Shiite ideology in the structure of power and governance in Iraq; the process of transformation of Iraq from a strategic enemy into a regional ally; equilibrium in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the region and the Arab world; and the importance of Iraq in international relations and the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its effects on Iran’s national security and interests, as well as, the significance of this country for the formulation of Tehran’s relationships with major powers, such as the United States. In other words, the kind of government that will be ruling over Iraq and the formulation of relationships with the Iraqi government will affect the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran at both the regional and global levels. Undoubtedly, an evaluation and assessment of the status of the new Iraq is dependent on the formulation of a new definition of the position of this country in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

        Iran's Foreign Policy in the New Iraq is trying to identify and understand the context of opportunities or challenges of the new Iraq for Iran’s national interests. Therefore, the main question has been formulated according to the principle of obtaining the optimal standard for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the new Iraq. The author argues that Iran and Iraq are not permanent strategic enemies or rivals. The tension, uncertainty, and animosity in the relationship between Iran and Iraq are neither strategic, nor irreparable. Rather, they are symptomatic of other factors. They are mainly rooted in the presence and interference of foreign countries in the structure of power and politics in the region, as well as, the regional and political relations of the two countries which are based on the threatening functions they mistakenly perceive in one another. We are witnessing new developments in the nature of power in Iraq and there exist many reasons for Iran and Iraq to set aside their misconception vis-à-vis threats emanating from one another; on such a basis, the relationship between these two countries can experience a new chapter based on reciprocal confidence and within the framework of strategic, socio-political, economic, and cultural cooperation in the region. Minor questions of the research within the aforementioned framework have been organized with an aim to providing an answer to the main question and identifying the opportunities or challenges of the new Iraq for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such questions addressed in the course of the book have been summarized as follows:

Within which theoretical, conceptual, and analytical framework can we clarify the formulation of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the new Iraq?

a. What is the status of the new Iraq in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran? And what are differentiating characteristics of the new Iraq for the perspectives of Iranian foreign policy?

b. Who are the actors and what are the principles that are effective in the new Iraq? What is the logic for the formulation of will, determination, and objectives in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the new Iraq?

c. What are optimal economic, cultural, political, and security strategies of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Iraq?

d. What is the definition of Iran’s regional and global role and Shi’ism? And what is the concept of “strategic link” in the relationship between the two countries?

e. What is the role and significance of foreign powers (the United States) in the kind of policy that the Islamic Republic of Iran adopts in Iraq?

f. What are the challenges of the new Iraq for Iranian national interests?

      Answering such pivotal questions, the author has attempted to elaborate on the optimal foreign policy strategy for the realization of the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the new Iraq. He has tried to define this optimal strategy by focusing on a combination of current demands and expectations, as well as the feasibility of strategic objectives. In other words, the author considers the optimal point in the orientation of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran as access to a kind of equilibrium between short-term and long-term objectives of the Iranian national interest in the new Iraq. He, therefore, pays due attention to a series of assumptions and principles which are quite vital for the development of Iran’s foreign policy in a plethora of respects. These principles and assumptions provide a more realistic understanding of the realization of an optimal strategy. These assumptions and principles are as follows:

a. Formulation of foreign policy should be carried out with an understanding of the roles and demands of other actors.

b. Equilibrium among potentials, realities, and demands is a very basic principle in the formulation of foreign policy.

c. The nature of the foreign and international policy is quite different from that of the domestic policy; therefore, these two sorts of policies adopt different tools and approaches for pursuing their own orientations and objectives.

d.  Absolute power and governance define roles within the spectrum of domestic policies; however, interaction and collaboration are considered as defining factors in international politics.

e. Countries have limited potentials for taking advantage of their role and influence in foreign policy.

       Opportunity contexts in foreign policy are dependent on restrictions, objectives of rival actors, the status of countries in the regional and global system, and, generally speaking, the relative acceptance of the rules of the game and the existing structure. Therefore, the hypothesis of Iran's Foreign Policy in the New Iraq is based on attaching great importance to the balancing role and strategic status of Shi’ism in providing and creating opportunities for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In other words, the author is arguing that the element of Shi’ism in Iranian foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran should be viewed within the context of “creating strategic links” among political centers of power in Iraq. The author reiterates that the element of Shi’ism should play a pivotal role in providing invaluable potentials and opportunities in economic, cultural, political, and security contexts. According to the concept of “strategic link”, the relationship with political groups and factions in Iraq should be based on the institutionalization of their status and role throughout the spectrum of political power and governance in the country. In fact, strengthening the legitimacy and power of such political groups and factions can, in the long-run, contribute to the further development and extension of Iran’s role and status within the context of relationships that exists among states in the region. Therefore, the relationship that is based on the Shiite worldview and outlook should not be looked upon from a mere ideological perspective. Rather, ideology is only one aspect of this kind of relationship. Through collaboration with friendly countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran can realize its own strategic objectives. In other words, “strategic link” is more important than strengthening the relationship in the short-term. In fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran attaches great importance to further strengthening its foreign policy within the context of strategic and long-term issues. Also, the Islamic Republic of Iran pays due attention to the context of opportunities and political roles within the structure of political governance.

       The author of Iran's Foreign Policy in the New Iraq refers to this phenomenon as the “strategic importance of Shi’ism and Shi’ite ideology for the relationships of the Islamic Republic of Iran with the new Iraq.” There is a logical argument for taking advantage of this very important element. In fact, due to its cultural background and the religious- historical rivalries and animosities within the region, the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran has usually been associated with constraints and limitations for having an active presence in the power and politics of the Arab world. In other words, the Shi’ite element is associated with numerous difficulties in crafting a compatible foreign policy with traditions, indicators, and natural orientations of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the Arab world. This element can, consequently, create constraints for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran with regional Arab states. However, it should be pointed out that the element of Shi’ism can play a vital role in the politico-security transitions in the contemporary Middle East. It, in fact, can be considered as an important instrument for the realization of this objective. As a result, any contribution to the empowerment of Shi’ite element in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is bound up with the further strengthening of Iran’s position and status within the Middle East. In other words, the author argues that considerable ideological activity in Iraq through the empowerment of Shi’ism can create challenges and problems for Iran’s relations with Iraq, the Arab world, and the major global powers. However, he reiterates that the strengthening of such an element in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran should be considered as a crucial advantage for the formulation of Iranian foreign policy at both the regional and international levels. The author reiterates that the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran should be optimally designed and formulated according to this criterion. As a result of the above-mentioned argument, the author refers to the concept of “application and management of ideology”, which is mainly dependent on efforts that are carried out for creating equilibrium in Iraq’s foreign policy and empowerment of the Shiite element and its strategic importance. According to the author, the structure of power and politics in the Middle East is so complicated that political actors are required to apply all instruments of power in order to direct the political game and regulate strategic relations.

        As a result, the author believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran can take advantage of its ace in the hole i.e. Shiite ideology and worldview, in the Iraqi political structure in order to contribute to the realization of its own national interests. Trying to delineate the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran and considering the demands of the masses and the expectations of academic/administrative, political, cultural, religious and military elites, this book is mainly focused on the clarification of strategic importance of the new Iraq in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran through adopting an independent perspective. The analysis and processing of data and information has been carried out according to the personal observations and experiences of the author, interaction with Iranian, Iraqi, and Arab world elites, experts of regional affairs, and participation in domestic and international conferences. In addition, the author has taken advantage of academic sources, reports of internal research centers, and the products of foreign research institutes. These research reports and products have been published as books and articles in recent years. He has also resorted to these resources in order to facilitate the conceptualization and contextualization process. The author has not restricted himself to the above-mentioned resources. He has taken advantage of data collection and ratified documents and regulations during the transition period in Iraq, such as “The Law of Transition Authority”, “The Iraqi Development Strategy”, and “The Iraqi Constitution.” The author has tried to organize his findings according to the political, security, economic, and cultural realities of the new Iraq.

       The research methodology that has been adopted in this book is based on the orientation of arguments within the micro-context (from the perspective of comparative studies) and the macro-context (from the perspective of international relations). In other words, the Iranian and Iraqi issues are, first of all, discussed from the perspective of internal issues of power and politics, political identities, and the role of political factions, as well as their demands and expectations in the new situation. The issues that are associated with Iran and Iraq should be discussed according to their mutual expectations from developing the relations, identification of challenges and opportunities, or, generally speaking, from the perspective of comparative studies. On the other hand, it is impossible to understand the formulation of mutual relations between Iran and the new Iraq without paying due attention to the structure of the international system, regional security order, role of foreign powers, and international relations more generally. Taking advantage of micro-aspects of issues at the domestic policy level, the author is simultaneously focused on the macro-aspects of these issues, too. At the same time, the author takes advantage of concepts such as the “establishment of strategic links”, “taking strategic advantage of the element of Shi’ism”, “management in ideological language”, “innovation in the field of security technology,” re-orientation from security-creation strategy towards opportunity creation strategy”, “opportunity creation during the transition time”, “concentration on commonalities instead of contradictions”, “mutual interdependence and vulnerability”, and the “establishment of a balanced government in Iraq” for the clarification of the relationship between Iran and the new Iraq. He takes advantage of these concepts in order to provide a better orientation for the discussions of his book.

       This book has been organized into four sections. The first section raises theoretical discussions and tries to provide analytical methodologies that are considered as appropriate for delineating the issues of the new Iraq from the perspective of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The second section deals with the status of the new Iraq in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This section is focused on the features of the new Iraq from the perspective of the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It discusses changes in the nature of power and politics in Iraq, as well as the role of regional and global actors in this country. Later on, the second section of the book embarks on an analysis and classification of various requirements and objectives governing the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran within the context of effective principles and actors.  The third section deals with the optimal strategy in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the new Iraq. This section, which is the most voluminous section of the book, is focused on Iranian economic, cultural, political, and security strategies in regulating the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran towards the new Iraq. Taking advantage of the concept of the strategic importance of the element of Shi’ism in the political governance of the new Iraq, which contributes to the further development of Iran’s role and influence in its relations with other states, the author endeavours to analyze the significance and importance of the new Iraq in regulating the regional and international relations of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Finally, the fourth section of this book analyzes and classifies the challenges of the new Iraq for the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It deals with challenges of the presence of foreign troops in the region, the process of nation-building and transition in Iraq, rivalries of religious and secular figures and ideologies, and the problems of strengthening politico-ethnic identities in Iraq based on their degree of importance.

Source: Discourse: An Iranian Quarterly, Issue, Fall 2009-Winter 2010

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