A former U.S. ambassador to Iraq has accused Iran of playing an "unhelpful" and "very damaging" role in Iraq by furthering sectarian tensions.
In a July 1 interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Ryan Crocker pointed a finger at a wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) known as the Quds Force, which he suggested was still fighting a decades-old war.
"It seems to me that the Quds Force, at least, is pursuing a policy aimed at a permanent division of Iraq into a Sunni area, a Shi'ite area, and a Kurdish area," Crocker said.
The IRGC's commander, Major General Qasem Soleimani, has had a visible presence in Iraq in recent months.
Crocker said he believes that for Suleimani and some other Iranian veterans of the 1980-88 war with Iraq who felt "cheated in 1988 that had to settle for a truce instead of an outright victory," that war is still going on.
"This [current state of affairs in Iraq] is the chance to obtain that ultimate victory that eluded them back in 1988," Crocker said. "Permanent victory would be a permanent division of Iraq -- never again could a completely divided Iraq threaten Iran as it did in 1980."
Crocker predicted that the policy was likely to ultimately hurt Iran "because an Iraq divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, I think, poses a threat to Iran's own internal security over the long run."
Crocker, a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), the body that oversees U.S. international broadcasting, including RFE/RL, pointed to Iran's "destructive" role in Iraq as one of the major issues, beyond the nuclear topic, currently dividing Washington and Tehran.
WATCH: Crocker Says Iran Aiming For Permanent Division Of Iraq
Differences are likely to remain even if a comprehensive nuclear deal is reached to curb Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for international sanctions relief.
The so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States plus Germany -- this week pushed back until July 7 a self-imposed deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement.
Crocker said he thought a deal might eventually lead to improved ties between the United States and Iran, who broke ties following the 1979 revolution and the taking of American officials hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
"An agreement would create a different climate, a different atmosphere in which diplomatic talks, diplomatic relations, unthinkable before, would now become at least a possibility," Crocker said.
But he cautioned that he would not envisage "swift movement" on diplomatic relations between the two old foes in the event of a deal.
Iran and the P5+1 gave themselves the extra week on June 30, as a midnight deadline approached for the nuclear talks in Vienna.
Crocker took the absence of major information leaks from the nuclear negotiations as a sign that the talks have been "serious."
Western governments have accused Iran of conducting a secret program to develop a nuclear-weapons capability, a charge that Tehran has consistently rejected.
Ryan, who has served in U.S. ambassadorial posts throughout the Middle East and South Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan in addition to Baghdad, said a solid nuclear deal should be welcomed internationally.
"A good agreement, and clearly the United States is only going to sign a good agreement from our standpoint, is in the interests of all countries in the region and beyond," he said.
(Written by Golnaz Esfandiari based on an interview conducted by RFE/RL's Radio Farda's Niusha Boghrati)