Syrian Crisis Brings Iran, Iraq Closer Together
Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, traveled to Baghdad Sunday on his first trip abroad. On this trip, Mr. Zarif met with Noori al-Maleki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, and other high-ranking Iraqi officials. Iranian Diplomacy spoke with Nazem Dabbagh, a representative of Kurdistan province in the Iranian Majlis, about the importance of this trip and its outcome.
How would you assess the visit made by Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, to Iraq? Why was Iraq chosen for the Foreign Minister’s first official visit?
The reason is that, at the present time, Iran and Iraq enjoy strong, old relations. Iranian officials had close relations with many Iraqi officials especially during the years of struggle against the Iraqi dictator and these relations have been maintained after the downfall of Saddam as well. During recent years, and particularly following the crisis in Syria, Iran and Iraq have become closer due to the conditions of the region. After the establishment of the new government in Iran led by Dr. Rohani and considering his policy of strengthening relations with the neighbors, it was expected that relations between Iran and Iraq would be improved and this visit can be assessed in this regard.
One of the issues which were discussed in this visit was the possible US attack against Syria. What are the positions of Iran and Iraq on this issue?
Both Iran and Iraq intend to play an active and effective role in regional issues, particularly the issue of Syria. Syria is a neighbor of Iraq and an ally of Iran and any development in this country will have direct impacts on both Iran and Iraq. As Mr. Zarif has mentioned, Iran and Iraq have both been victims of chemical weapons but if an attack is launched against Syria based on the issue of chemical weapons, Iran and Iraq will both be affected by it.
The present critical conditions which exist in this country and a possible war will both have negative impacts on the region and, in particular, on Iran and Iraq; therefore, taking common positions with regard to this issue and preventing the war is necessary. Under the present circumstances where significant events are happening in our neighboring region, Mr. Zarif’s visit is very important and can help the future of the region and relations between the two countries.
Since long ago, Iran has been an ally of Bashar Assad and is against any regime change in Syria. This is while Iraq in the past had differences with the Baathist government in Syria. Are there any common points between Iran and Iraq right now with regard to the Syrian crisis?
There are perhaps some differences of opinion. It cannot be expected that the two countries have similar opinions on all issues. But what brings the two countries closer together and removes their differences is the present and future security conditions of the region and the developments which are taking place. It is true that Iran has been an ally of Bashar Assad and Iraq was not, but considering the common interests that exist today between Iran and Iraq, both countries have similar views on the issue that the ground should be prepared for future elections in Syria in such a way that the people of this country would actively participate in the election and choose their president and decide whether Assad should remain in power or not.
The presidential elections in Iran which led to the presidency of Dr. Rohani can be a turning point in bilateral relations between Iran and Iraq. Nevertheless, the general policies might continue, but a big difference between the present government and the previous government is the personality of Mr. Rohani and Mr. Zarif, both of whom have high diplomatic abilities.
Mr. Zarif and Mr. Zebari have both reiterated a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis in their joint press conference. What do they mean by a peaceful solution?
As I mentioned before, Iran and Iraq believe that the future political situation in Syria must be determined by the people and foreign interference would only expand the crisis. Iran and Iraq seek national dialogue with the presence of all Syrian political groups. Obviously, the continuation of the present conditions is not to the benefit of either country. Any insecurity in our neighborhood is to our disadvantage. Therefore, Iran and Iraq and many other countries have similar views in this regard and believe that military clashes in Syria must end and all ethnic and religious groups, whether Shiite, Sunni , Kurd, Druze, Christian… must unite to expel the threat of al-Qaeda and terrorism. If this does not happen, we will witness the expansion of the influence of al-Qaeda and radicalism in the region and this will create a crisis for the future of the entire region.
By choosing Iraq for his first official visit, Mr. Zarif has practically begun his work on regional policy. What effects will the change of government in Iran have on relations between Iran and Iraq?
The presidential elections in Iran, which led to the establishment of Dr. Rohani’s government, can be a turning point in Iran-Iraq relations. General policies might continue but a serious difference between the present and former governments is the diplomatic capabilities of both Mr. Rohani and Mr. Zarif. Considering this diplomatic experience and Mr. Zarif’s first official visit to Iraq, it can be expected that Iran and Iraq would strengthen bilateral relations. This issue can help the solidarity of the other countries of the region and the return of peace and stability.
Hussein al-Shahristani, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq in charge of energy, has talked about his country’s readiness to help Iran with regard to its nuclear program. What kind of help is he talking about?
There have been talks between the two parties during Zarif’s visit to Iraq with regard to future negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Iraq can both play the role of the host of nuclear negotiations and also justly mediate between the two sides. Iraq has good relations with Iran and can attract Iran’s trust. On the other hand, Iraq also has good relations with the western countries, particularly the US and Europe, and can mediate on this issue so that the tensions between Iran and the West would be reduced. This measure will not only be to the benefit of Iran and Iraq but also to the benefit of the entire region and the world.
With regard to recent events in Camp Ashraf, Mohammad Javad Zarif has stated that Iran considers the presence of terrorists who helped the Saddam regime in suppressing the people of Iraq a threat to bilateral relations. How important is this issue, in your opinion, in bilateral relations?
Attacking Camp Ashraf is not an incident which would impact Iran-Iraq relations. The policy followed by the government of Iraq with regard to the MKO has always been the same and the government of Iraq has always emphasized the expulsion of this group from Iraq. This has always been Iraq’s policy and Iraq does not want an armed group which is active against its friend and neighboring country to be stationed in this country and create insecurity. Mr. Zebari has also mentioned that the government of Iraq has formed an investigating committee with regard to the events in Camp Ashraf, but, in any case, the MKO has no status in Iraq and must soon leave this country. Iraq has, several times, asked the international community to choose another location for the MKO, but this has not happened yet.