Prospects of Iran-Iraq ties 

July 20, 2020 - 21:8

In his first foreign trip, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is expected to visit Iran on Tuesday, a move that further reiterates the strength and depth of Iran-Iraq bilateral relations in various sectors, despite the U.S. and its regional allies’ continued efforts to disrupt or at least undermine the neighborly ties between Iran and Iraq through media and sanctions campaigns, analysts tell

The visit came two days after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held extensive talks with almost all Iraqi political and military leaders on Sunday in Baghdad. This was the first visit by Zarif to Iraq since the formation of the new Iraqi government in May.  It highlighted the close contacts between the two countries despite the fact that travels and meetings between countries have been strictly restricted due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus,  which has infected up to 14.6 million and killed more than 600,000 people all over the world. 

During has one-day visit to Baghdad, Zarif discussed many political, economic, security, judicial as well as regional issues.  His talks were “very successful”, especially in terms of following up on the assassination of IRGC Quds Force Commander Lt. Gen. Qassem Soleimani by an American drone strike on January 3, 2020 near Baghdad’s international airport, according to a diplomatic source who closely monitors the Iran-Iraq relations.  

Speaking at a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad, Zarif said, “Unfortunately, the assassination of the two martyrs - Soleimani and al-Mohandes - is a great loss in the fight against Daesh, and that Iraq and Iran will follow up on this issue, which is a very important issue.”

Accompanied by Iranian ambassador to Iraq Iraj Masjedi and several Iraqi officials, Zarif also paid homage to General Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes by visiting the location where they were assassinated.

Pundits believe that the assassination of General Soleimani and al-Mohandes marked a major “turning point in Iraq-Iran ties” that would continue to shape the ties in the future. 

“In my point of view, the martyrdom of General Soleimani in that country [Iraq] and the Iraqi government policy towards the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is close to the Islamic Republic of Iran, were a very big turning point,” Ali Shariati, a member of Iran’s Chamber of commerce, tells the Tehran Times.

Al-Kadhimi succeeded Adel Abdul Mahdi, the former prime minister in the midst of a wave of protests that racked Iraq for nearly a year and led to the resignation of Abdul Mahdi on November 29, 2019. As the Iraqi Parliament approved Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, the race to name new prime minister began in earnest. At least two people were tasked by the Iraqi president to put together a cabinet. They both failed to do so. Ultimately, the various Iraqi political factions agreed to agree on Mustafa al-Kadhimi, the country’s intelligence chief who is famous for his behind-the-scenes contacts with all major players in the region including Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.
Al-Kadhimi had a "close relationship" with Iran, even before he took office, Amir Mousavi, who was Iran's cultural attaché in Algeria in 2015, tells the Tehran Times. He mentioned a meeting between al-Kadhimi and Iran's Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani on May 8, 2020. 

“In General Soleimani’s assassination, al-Kadhimi has also cooperated with Iran to help it get to the bottom of the assassination. That’s why Iran’s judiciary has very strong clues regarding the U.S. involvement in General Soleimani’s assassination. This is indicative of the very good judicial cooperation between Iran and Iraq,” added Mousavi, who is now director of the Tehran-based Center for Strategic Studies and International Relations.

However, the U.S. and its regional allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, have sought to portray the premiership of al-Kadhimi as a major blow to Iran’s influence in Iraq. Their news media organizations regularly run articles suggesting that Iran has lost its influence in Iraq after the country’s protests made it impossible for Iran to determine who would form the cabinet once Abdul Mahdi resigned, and that al-Kadhimi is distancing himself from Iran to avoid the wrath of the protesters. Al-Kadhimi, the argument goes, is doing so because he knows that he took office thanks to the protests against the Iranian influence in his country. 

“In an attempt to show that the protests have achieved their goals, the U.S. and Saudi media organizations, along with the so-called ‘Iraqi Jokers’, make efforts to drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq. They portray al-Kadhimi’s premiership as a victory to say that the protests have come to fruition. But this is not the case because al-Kadhimi has a good rapport with Iran,” Mousavi pointed out. 
According to Mousavi, under al-Kadhimi, Iran-Iraq relations have become even stronger. Al-Kadhimi is also resuming the border trade with Iran. Moreover, Tehran and Baghdad are cooperating at the highest level in the fight against terrorism.

Mousavi also said that during Zarif’s visit to Baghdad, the two countries reached an agreement on all issues and will continue their cooperation. 

“Al-Kadhimi will sign significant agreements in Tehran on Tuesday,” said the former diplomat, adding that the Iraqi prime minister’s visit to Iran will include a meeting with Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who has not received any foreign leader since the outbreak of Covid-19. 

The Iraqi embassy in Tehran, which was kept in the dark about al-Kadhimi’s trip to Iran, didn’t respond to a request for comment. The embassy was not involved in the arrangements of the prime minister’s trip to Iran. Al-Kadhimi has said on many occasions that he is willing to activate the role of Iraq’s official institutions in dealing with other countries. But it’s not clear yet why he has chosen to keep the embassy out of the arrangements. 

In his trip to Baghdad, Zarif discussed with al-Kadhimi the latest bilateral and regional issues as well as the Iraqi prime minister’s trip to Iran. He pointed out that Iran is looking for a new chapter in its relations with Iraq, according to a statement issued by the media office of the Iraqi prime minister.

Zarif has laid the groundwork for a new stage in Iran’s relations with Iraq. According to Mousavi, the relations between Tehran and Baghdad is no longer subject to security considerations because the situation in Iraq is now normal, and that Iran has shifted from expanding security ties with Iraq to the development of economic and diplomatic ties with that country. 

According to Mousavi, in the years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, security and military officials, such as martyr General Soleimani, were in charge of handling Iran’s relations with Iraq as the country was unstable and under the U.S. occupation.  However, as the situation in Iraq has improved in recent years, political and diplomatic officials assumed a new role in Iranian-Iraqi relations.

It seems that al-Kadhimi is keen to seize on this opportunity to build what he calls “balanced relations” with countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia and the U.S., while keeping Iraq out of regional tensions that could have major implications for its fragile security. The prime minister is likely to discuss this issue with the Iranian officials on Tuesday. It remains to be seen whether al-Kadhimi succeed in achieving his foreign policy goals. 

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