Tehran-Baghdad Strategic Alliance

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Due to the particular situation of Iran and Iraq as well as the geopolitics of the region, if anything remains “unsettled” between the two countries for any reason, it could again cut down Tehran-Baghdad relations from their current strategic level. This in turn underlines the need for a final and permanent settlement of outstanding issues.

The increasing diplomatic shuttles to Tehran by Iraqi officials and the vice versa more than any other thing reveals Baghdad’s outlook towards Tehran’s position in the trend of Iraq’s prosperity and economic-political reconstruction. The shuttles of Iraqi officials to Iran compared to other diplomatic shuttles show that the Iraqis have opened a special account for the IRI and pinned hope in its aids and positive interaction more than any other neighboring country.

Tehran and Baghdad exchange a political-economic delegation almost every week. This more than any other thing demonstrates the resolve of the two countries to fully mend bilateral relations and lay a quick foundation for a new and permanent relationship. This new beginning in Tehran-Baghdad relations is taking place in the most complicated conditions possible. Two opposite poles in the region until six years ago, Iran and Iraq are now very close friends in the Middle East region.

In analyzing this phenomenon, one has to review the developments of the recent years particularly the events after the US occupation of Iraq.

Although part of the cost of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow was imposed on the region by foreign forces through their military expedition and starting a war and although the regional nations particularly the people of Iraq had to pay for an important part of the costs of this aggression, however, in the wake of the regional developments the two nations of Iran and Iraq have come close to one another and are trying to forge new relations in this geographical domain.

In the meantime, the West was thinking that this equation would be precisely reverse and that with the fall of Saddam and deployment of American and British forces near the Iranian borders the Islamic Republic of Iran would be isolated. They thought they could turn Iran into a second Iraq through international pressures and even military confrontation. But the reality was something else.

In other words, after the fall of Saddam, Iran adopted a wise stance vis-à-vis the new developments in Iraq. While opposing the military occupation of Iraq and foreign troop buildup after the fall of Saddam, Tehran supported the formation of a new government and political process in Iraq. Due to the population and ethnic fabric of Iraq, Iran was confident that if real democracy is realized in the neighboring country forces close to IRI would come to power.

The same situation had outmaneuvered the Americans in the Iraqi scene. The West had thought that Iran would adopt a simple and negative stance vis-à-vis the new developments in Iraq. But the Shiites who comprised more than 60 percent of the Iraqi population, together with the Kurds based in northern Iraq, were two traditional allies of the IRI who played a significant role in the political process of Iraq. Iran’s direct support for the political process in Iraq which took place before all other neighboring countries, helped the Iraqis to trust Iran further and recognize it as the first friendly country. Interestingly, the process of Iran’s alliance with these two groups (particularly the Kurds) was shaped at the time of the Iraqi war against Iran (1980-88). That cooperation has now turned into a strategic alliance.

The same figures of the 1980s who took arms against Saddam in guerrilla wars are now traveling to Iran as “Iraqi statesmen” and the same alliance has helped strengthen mutual trust and friendship between the two countries. Political leaders such as Jalal Talabani, Nuri al-Maliki and Abdelaziz Hakim are among those leaders who have now laid the foundation stone for new relations between Baghdad and Tehran.

Despite all the existing potentials in relations between Iran and Iraq, there are some outstanding issues too and it seems that repeated visits to Iran by Iraqi officials and their consultations in Tehran aim at final resolution of these issues. These include continued presence of remnants of the terrorist Mujahedin Khalq Organizations (MKO) in Iraq, issues pertaining to the imposed war, question of war reparations, implementation of the 1976 Algiers Accord, etc. In order to remove all dark points and ambiguities in future relations in the coming decades, Iran and Iraq should settle these issues once and forever.

The necessity of expelling the MKO members from Iraq which was underlined in the Supreme Leader’s remarks in a recent meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is the key to final settlement of the outstanding issues between Iran and Iraq. The Iraqi side is expected to show its resolve in full and unconditional ouster of the MKO from Iraq.

The strategy of enemies of Iran-Iraq relations, particularly after the forthcoming withdrawal of the US troops from Iraq, could be to keep some outstanding issues between the two countries so that they could pit the two superior powers of the Middle East against one another in appropriate time to serve their own interests.

Another angle of Talabani’s recent visit to Tehran must be sought in the issue of Iran-US talks. Let’s not forget that Iraq was the first pretext for Tehran-Washington talks. Under the current situation that rumors on possible negotiations between IRI and US are rampant, the recent shuttles could have aimed at preparing the ground for future talks between Tehran and Washington. Iraq maintains very close ties with Iran and the US and wants to find a new place in regional relations by playing the role of a reliable mediator between Tehran and Washington.


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