Iran Resorts to Offense-Based Diplomacy in Iraq
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's Foreign Minister, had said that Iraq would randomly search Iranian planes destined for Damascus. During the past few days, an Iran Air cargo plane, with Damascus as its destination, landed in Iraq and was searched. In your opinion, what is the goal behind this measure and why is this policy being followed?
The US claimed that the Iranian planes, which use Iraq's air space to go to Syria, transfer weapons. The US is at least doubtful about this matter. On this basis, the US administration dispatched an envoy to Iraq to inform the Iraqi government and ask them to search these planes. The government of Iraq has been placed in an undesirable situation, between being a friend and ally of the US and a friend and ally of Iran.
There are three major powers in the power structure of Iraq. First, there are the Shiites who are not willing to do this, second there are the Kurds, and the third group consists of Arab Sunnis who have, to some extent, supported this viewpoint of the US. In the end, a statement was made by Mr. Hoshyar Zebari saying that Iraq maintains the right for itself to search Iranian planes destined for Damascus. The point that Iraq has once enforced this policy indicates that Iraq, under US pressure, has accepted certain US demands. Finally, this position cannot be considered as Iraq's hostile position against Iran; it must rather be evaluated as Iraq succumbing to US pressure with regard to the issue of Iran and this is a political reality.
There are reports of aid to Syrian opposition through Iraqi borders. Is the government of Iraq as concerned about helping Bashar Assad's government as it is sensitive about helping his opponents?
It must be noted that Iraq's border with Syria has two parts. One part is in the hands of the government, in which the government has installed fences and barbed wire and has stationed forces to control this border, for it is one of the borders which can lead to insecurity in Iraq. Therefore, the government of Iraq attempts to prevent any activity in this border which would lead to insecurity in Iraq. But the border of Iraq's Kurdistan province with Syria or the Rabia border station is not controlled much. The government of Iraq pursued the supervision of this border and gave a mission to an army regiment to establish security at this point. When this regiment was dispatched to the region, armed forces of the Kurdistan province started to clash with them, leading to the halt of this mission by the Iraqi government in order to prevent a domestic war between the central government and the Kurdistan province.
The Kurdistan province of Iraq attempts to control its border with Syria in order to use the political opportunities in that country. The Hasaka region is a province in Syria with Kurdish inhabitants, the center of which is Qamishli, and the officials of the Kurdistan province try to create a situation similar to this province in this region. This means that they want this region to become autonomous and these two Kurdish regions to cooperate. Furthermore, Iraq's Kurdish government gathered all the Kurdish groups in Hasaka. More than fifteen Kurdish groups of Syria, with the Kurdish province of Iraq as the center, gathered and were organized within the framework of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. The only group which was left out of this framework were PKK supporters. They did not enter this parliament. They are of course stationed in the border regions.
This shows that there are two different points of view in Iraq's Kurdistan province and the central government of the country. The central government attempts to prevent the Syrian crisis from impacting Iraq. This is while the Kurdistan province seeks political opportunities inside Syria.
In your opinion, how possible is the integration of Syria's Kurdish region with Iraq’s Kurdistan province?
The Kurdish region of Syria has a common border with Iraq and the city of Mosul. The presence of Iraqi Kurdish forces in this region is illegal, because this region is part of Neynava province, the center of which is Mosul, and it is practically not under the control of the Kurdistan province. But the forces of the Kurdistan province have somehow progressed and stationed themselves outside Iraq's Kurdistan province in order to maintain their relations with the Kurdish province of Syria. This shows that Iraq's Kurdistan province pursues this task with complete awareness and with insistence and willingness.
Furthermore, the Kurdish population of Syria forms 8 to 9 percent of the whole population of this country. Contrary to the Iraqi Kurds who form 17 to 18 percent of Iraq's population, the Kurdish people of Syria do not hold large areas of this country. Part of the Kurds of this region did not even have Syrian citizenship, for they were Turkish Kurds who entered Syria during recent decades, but Bashar Assad gave them Syrian citizenship in the beginning of the crisis to show his good intentions. This concession, rendered to them by the government of Syria, has caused them to have relatively positive relations with the Syrian government. This is while they have participated in all opposition conferences and demanded their recognition as an ethnic minority and the right to establish a federal region. But none of the opposition conferences recognized this right. In the end, they were disappointed with the opposition and distanced themselves from them. At the present time, what the Kurds of Syria seek is completely different from the demands of the rest of the opposition.
Therefore, it must be said that the Syrian Kurds demand the establishment of a federal region. But they have positive relations with the government and if the government succeeds in solving different problems, it seems improbable that they make such a demand from the government. But if developments in Syria reshuffle present conditions, they are ready to play such a role.
Iran’s Defense Minister, Mr. Vahidi, visited Iraq on Wednesday. This is the first trip of an Iranian Minister of Defense to Iraq. Is this trip related to these recent developments?
The trip made by Mr. Vahidi is a very important trip, because cooperation between Iran and Iraq is basically defined from a political aspect and Iraq’s military dimension is arranged in cooperation with the West and the US. Therefore, Mr. Vahidi's visit is a type of aggressive diplomacy. Creation of relations with Iraq's military can be very valuable for Iran. But it is not probable that recent developments in mutual relations will be discussed. The minister of defense usually does not determine foreign policy between the two countries. Mutual cooperation in military dimensions will be the main issue discussed in this meeting. It is possible that messages and complaints will be transferred, but direct responsibility for this issue is not on the shoulders of the defense minister.
Have relations between Iraq and Iran been influenced by the Syrian crisis?
Yes. These relations have, to some extent, been influenced by the crisis in Syria but its result is not necessarily divergence. Iran and Iraq's cooperation with regard to the issue of Syria is very vast in some parts. The plan proposed by Iraq in the NAM Summit with regard to Syria is not very different from Iran's plan. All of these show that Iran and Iraq, with regard to Syria, have more common points than differences. This shows that the threat of spread of the Syrian crisis to the region is an opportunity for convergence and the strengthening of cooperation between Iran and Iraq.