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Iran/Iraq: As Senior Visit Concludes, Deals Signal Increased Cooperation

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Ja'fari (left) with outgoing Iranian President Khatami yesterday Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari today ended a landmark visit to Iran that outgoing Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami hailed as a turning point in relations between their neighboring countries.

Prague, 18 July 2005 (RFE/RL) -- At the end of his three-day visit, al-Ja'fari said his country needs the help of its “Iranian brothers “ in reconstructing Iraq and building a free and independent country. Al-Ja'fari also told journalists that his visit resulted in the establishment of joint councils in the areas of antiterrorism, trade, and the economy.

"We created five councils -- one political -- the others were border council, council for construction, council for services, and council to combat terrorism," al-Ja'fari said. "They were created because these five issues are important to both countries."

Al-Ja'fari held talks with several top Iranian officials, including President Khatami, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, and President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

President Khatami said yesterday that al-Ja'fari's visit would help heal the wounds caused by Saddam Hussein through joint cooperation.

Khatami vowed after his talks that the Islamic Republic of Iran will do everything it can to ensure the reconstruction, security, and stability of Iraq.

Al-Ja'fari, who spent several years in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein, said he realized the evil wrought by the former Iraqi leader in the region but said Hussein did not represent the Iraqi people.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said today that both countries will embark on joint oil project within a year. The project includes the construction of an oil pipeline between the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah and the southwestern Iranian city of Abadan.

Representatives of the two countries yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at expanding trade relations, including the export of Iranian technical and engineering services, as well as other goods to Iraq. The sides also signed a memorandum on expanding rail, road, air, and sea transportation between the two countries. Iranian state news agency IRNA today reported that several documents on bilateral cooperation were scheduled to be signed on 20 July.
Iran and Iraq have embarked on the path of reconciliation in recent months. Senior officials from both countries have exchanged visits that both sides have hailed as “a new chapter “ in their relations.

Mahmud Othman, a former member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told RFE/RL from the Iraqi capital that cooperation between Iran and Iraq could help solve some of Iraq’s current problems, including securing the borders.

“I think the visit is important because Iran and Iraq had a lot of problems in between and Iran has a lot of border with Iraq," Othman said. "For the time being, Iraq is suffering from many issues like security, [a lack of access to] services, and lack of electricity and other things, so maybe that would be helpful in solving some of these problems.”

Agencies report that during Al-Ja'fari’s visit to Iran, both sides vowed to prevent terrorist groups from crossing borders.

Iran and Iraq have embarked on the path of reconciliation in recent months. Senior officials from both countries have exchanged visits that both sides have hailed as “a new chapter “ in their relations.

Anoush Ehteshami, a professor of international relations at the U.K.'s Durham University who directs the university's Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies of the Middle East and Central Asia, told RFE/RL that Iran and Iraq could enjoy good relations in the future if the two countries manage to resolve outstanding issues including those related to their 1980-88 war.

“If the two countries manage [to demonstrate] that the reemergence of Shiites is not a threat -- especially to other Persian gulf countries and also in Lebanon -- then they can make a big investment in their current relations and they can increase their influence in the Persian Gulf region," Ehteshami said. "The two countries can also help each other regarding economic issues. Currently Iraq has a big need for Iran‘s industry, for example in the energy sector. “

Ehteshami added that the continuing hostility between Iran and the United States could prevent further rapprochement between Iran and Iraq.

U.S. officials have said that they favor good ties between the two neighbors but have warned Iran not to abuse its improving ties with Iraq or interfere in the country’s affairs.

Despite the ongoing enmity between Tehran and Washington, Othman said he believes Iran has a golden opportunity for expanding ties with Iraq.

“The only problem Iran has is maybe the presence of America here," Othman said. "But still I think as long as those responsible are friendly to Iran -- and they were friendly when they were in the opposition -- so I think it’s a golden opportunity for Iran to make good relations [with Iraq]. The U.S. maybe...[doesn't] like very much the ties between Iran and Iraq, but still they are not preventing anybody from doing it because in the end they want the situation in Iraq to succeed. And they think the relation between Iran and Iraq is important in this, so that’s why they are not interfering but they want some limits.”

Al-Ja'fari's visit to Iran has been hailed by Iranian newspapers as a new era in ties between Tehran and Baghdad.

Othman said there have been mixed reactions in Iraq to the visit.

“Inside Iraq people are busy with their daily problems: explosions, killings, lack of electricity, water, services. Anything else comes second," Othman said. "Sunnis in general are looking at it with reservation because they are afraid that this will strengthen the Shi’as and it may have negative impact on them. The Shi'as, of course, they support it. But the reactions in Iraq are not as enthusiastic as that of the Iranian side.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi today urged Iraq to ensure that that former Iraqi leader Hussein answers for his war crimes against Iran.

See also:

"Iraq: Prime Minister Makes Landmark Visit To Iran"

"Iran/Iraq: Neighbors Mending Ties, But Several Outstanding Issues Remain"
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.