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Analysis: Iraqis Look At Their Eastern Neighbor

  • Bill Samii

Interim Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, during a visit to Tehran, said on 31 August that Iran and Iraq agree that the two countries' political decision to have good relations should be "converted into a working plan," Al-Arabiyah television reported. He added, "Instability in Iraq will have adverse consequences for the entire region."

Salih, Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib, and Minister of State for Provinces Wail Abd al-Latif met with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani on 30 August, IRNA reported. Rohani noted that the security of Iran and of Iraq is linked, and Iraq's security has a regional impact. Salih reassured his host, "We will not allow any threat to be posed against Iran," and he added that coalition forces would not be allowed to stay in Iraq any longer than necessary.

The Iraqis met with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari on 29 August, IRNA reported the next day. Citing an Interior Ministry press release, IRNA reported, "The officials of both sides should notice that the enemies are frightened with [sic] the close ties between the two neighboring countries and their peaceful coexistence." Their discussions reportedly addressed pilgrimage traffic, the establishment of border markets, trade fairs, investment in border provinces, and cooperation in counternarcotics.

Salih said afterwards that the discussions in Iran were frank and cordial, "Al-Shira" reported on 4 September. Allegations of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest continue to trouble the two countries' budding relationship. Salih told "Al-Shira," "We will not allow the country to turn into an arena for settling accounts between Iran and the United States, for example." He added, in what could be a reassurance to Iran, "We will not allow our country to turn into a launching pad for strikes at the interests of our neighbors." He said coalition forces are in Iraq to help establish security and stability, and those who want the coalition to leave must help the Iraqi government maintain security.

Interim Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is said to have addressed this issue during his late-August trip to Iran. He was reportedly very forthright in a meeting with an unnamed Supreme National Security Council official and an unnamed adviser to the supreme leader, and he criticized Iranian military and security units' "blatant interference," Alireza Nurizadeh writes in the 4 September "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." Al-Ja'fari added that the charge d'affaires, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, is being watched closely by Iraqi security services, as was Qods Corps officer Khalil Naimi. Shot dead in Baghdad on 15 April by unknown assailants, Naimi was identified officially as the cultural and press attache at the Iranian embassy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April 2004). Al-Ja'fari told the Iranians that Qomi should avoid doing things that would get him expelled.

Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi discussed these allegations on 29 August, Italy's "Corriere della Sera" reported on 30 August. He said, "We ask that they respect our sovereignty and do not interfere in our internal affairs." Allawi said that although Iraq is weak now, it has the potential to be rich and strong, so calm is in everybody's interest. Addressing the possibility of his visiting Iran, a subject referred to frequently in the Iranian media, Allawi said, "If the conditions were there, I myself could soon go to Tehran."

Salah al-Shaikhly, the Iraqi ambassador to the United Kingdom, said on 2 September that Baghdad has good relations with the governments in Tehran and Riyadh, "Haaretz" reported on 3 September. Al-Shaikhly made his assertion in response to questions about his colleagues' accusations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. The problem relates to autonomous actors in these countries, he said. "The problem is that these structures [central governments] do not have control over the fanatical zealots that send forces across the border to Iraq," al-Shaikhly said. He explained that Baghdad has asked the central governments in Saudi Arabia and Iran to take action. He said, "We approached the two governments and asked them to deal with this, as they are better equipped than we are to do so."

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i said on 3 September that some of Iraq's neighbors are fueling unrest there and, when pressed, he said, "Yes, it is Iran. I have said it before.... and I say Iran, Iran, Iran," AP reported. He said Iran is promoting violence in his country as a way to "settle its scores" with the United States, AP reported.
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