Warning: take this with a freakin’ major grain of salt.
Iraq and Iran pledged Tuesday to turn the page on nearly a quarter-century of war and bitter rivalry during a visit here by Iran’s foreign minister, who expressed support for Iraq’s new Shiite-led government.
“I have no doubt this visit will open up significant new horizons for cooperation between the two countries,” the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, told a joint news conference after talks with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi.
“Post-Saddam Iraq is a new Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, far removed from its bellicose predecessor,” Zebari said.
Iraq may be at peace with its neighbors, but its neighbors, most notably Iran and Syria, are certainly not at peace with Iraq.
He also said Iran had pledged to cooperate on security and not provide any support to the insurgency.
Kharazi said: “We will not allow terrorists to use our lands to access Iraq. We will watch our borders and will arrest infiltrators, because securing Iraq is securing the Islamic Republic.”
I don’t believe Kharazi’s first sentence but do believe the second. It all depends on what one thinks Iran means by “securing” Iraq.
Iraq, struggling to contain insurgent attacks that have killed more than 400 people since a new government was unveiled three weeks ago, has accused neighboring countries of not doing enough to secure their borders.
Kharazi, the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein two years ago, assured his counterpart that Iran would not interfere in its neighbor’s affairs.
“Iraqis are in charge of their own affairs,” he said. “Any interference would be an insult to the Iraqi people.”
“It is in Iran’s interest to support by all possible means the Iraqi government,” he added. “It is not in the interest of any of Iraq’s neighbors to see the current situation continue because it would have negative consequences on the entire region.”
Again, I don’t believe the first sentence of the last paragraph but have no problem accepting the truth in the Iranian’s following sentence, if one defines “current situation” as a growing, popular democracy. That is certainly something that would have negative consequences for the current radical rulers of Iran.
Baghdad and Tehran re-established diplomatic ties in September, although many issues, including a peace treaty, remain unresolved following the devastating 1980-1988 war that left about one million dead.
Relations between Iran, with a Shiite majority, and the interim Iraq government set up by the United States in June 2004 were awkward.
But the formation this month of a Shiite-dominated government has helped ease relations. Many of the new Iraqi ministers spent years in exile in Iran, an archfoe of Washington, and Zebari made a point of repeatedly speaking in Farsi during the news conference.
The need to counter-balance Iranian influence is a key part in why the inclusion of the Sunnis into the new government is needed. That is meant to buy short-term viability while working towards long-term stability.
Kharazi’s visit comes against a backdrop of increasing tension between majority Shiites and previously dominant Sunni Arabs in Iraq, where a recent series of tit-for-tat killings have raised the specter of a sectarian war.
Iran would love an Iraqi civil war, as the Shiites would crush the minority Sunnis and Iran-friendly radical clerics would potentially grow in popularity and influence. Syria would settle for a civil war, if only to prevent a free and economically successful Arab democracy as a neighbor.