Iran-Iraq Rapprochement: New Political Alignment in the Middle East
Amid horrible daily bloodsheds in Iraq and while Saddam Hussein is awaiting his doom in prison and the American and allied forces are caught in an unprecedented quagmire, efforts are taking place by a shaky government in Baghdad to break through the prolonged hostilities with Iran.
Almost a quarter of century elapsed since an all-out war was launched in September 1980 by Iraq against Iran, which ended by the Security Council Resolution 598. This war was a typical fratricide between two Moslem countries, which left behind more than a million losses and wounded and billions of material damage for the two sides. Though Iran was not able to pursue its plan of punishing Saddam Hussein and toppling the Baathist regime in favor of the long subjugated Shiite majority in Iraq, American military intervention did the job and materialized this dream. As a consequence, Iran emerged as the final victor of this whole unfortunate event.
Now, after the collapse of Saddam’s brutal regime through U.S. military intervention and numerous accusations of Iran’s malicious attempts at destabilizing Iraq, high officials of the two states are shaking hands and making promises for a better future. What are the chances for this endeavor, who shall bear the costs of this rapprochement and what are the implications for the region?
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On July 8, 2005 (a day after the terrorist attacks on London and in the middle of G8 Summit in Scotland UK), Iraqi Defense Minister Sadoun Al-Dulaimi met with his Iranian counterpart Vice Admiral Ali Shamkhani as a debut of Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Al-Jafari visit to Tehran. So far so good, and there is nothing wrong with this bold initiative; since as we well remember the famous dictum: ‘states have no lasting enemies but they have enduring interests.’ Good examples of this maxim are the two World Wars in Europe in the 20th century. The odd thing about this visit was its apparent final outcome that is not only unacceptable in international law but absolutely intolerable for the people of Iran who’s moral and material sufferings during and after an eight-year-long war are beyond recount and imagination.
It was reported that Iraqi Defense Minister had come to Iran ‘to open a new chapter against what inspired between the two neighbors in the past,’ and he apologized for Iraqi war of aggression imposed upon Iran. The Iranian side ostensibly agreed to abandon Iran’s claims for war damages and reparations, and in addition pledged to provide one billion dollars to Iraq for reconstruction. Indeed, this whole affair seems quite bizarre and those officials who dared to venture such dealings are either ignorant of the limits of their authority or are playing a wicked game whose outcome will be very risky.
Since we do not know anything about the eventual quid-pro-quo behind the scene, we can only speculate on a few points that are worthy for consideration.
First of all, we should recognize that from a legal and technical point of view, and according to Security Council Resolution 598, Iraq-Iran war is yet in a ‘temporary suspension of active hostilities’ status and its final termination is subject to an official peace treaty between the two states.
Second, even if all mutual promises are taken as true intentions and in good faith, we cannot be sure whether the two sides have the capacity to carry them in practice. Since the present provisional government in Iraq lacks legitimate mandate and lawful standing to negotiate a peace treaty. Therefore any dealing with the current office-holders in Iraq is devoid of legal basis.
Third, pursuant to item 6 of the Resolution 598, the then U.N. Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, on December 9, 1991 handed over a report to the Security Council declaring Iraq as aggressor and the initiator of the war. Thus, Iraq’s international responsibilities for compensations are engaged and nobody can stop or forgive such ‘acquired rights’ for reparations and compensations to that effect. Only duly mandated and legitimate authorities can negotiate an all-encompassing peace treaty between the two parties.
Fourth, an eventual breakthrough between the two states, might pose a number of thorny issues, including the fate of Mujahideen Khlq Organization (MKO), which is an opposition group banned in Iran and stationed in Iraq. The Islamic regime has always been at odd with this group, and considers them as dangerous terrorists. Iran may eventually give attractive concessions to Iraq for the sake of preventing MKO activities and rendering it ineffective and completely neutralized. It is not quite known how much of the secret dealing with Iraq pertains to this preoccupation.
Fifth, the contemplated ‘military cooperation’ between the two states, discussed during the high officials visit in July 2005, might not please Americans and their allies in the middle East, especially Israel. Therefore, we should expect some negative reactions from states that feel threatened by this scheme, which may even obstruct the plan before it gets underway.
Sixth, the new conservative government in Iran, which is apparently promoting anew revolutionary values, might capitalize on the Shiite majority success in Iraq and by forming a coalition against the U.S. makes their presence in the region unbearable. Unless it gets some implicit assurance that the Americans will no longer pursuit the objective of regime change through military intervention or otherwise.
Finally, this whole scheme may be planned to show Iran’s goodwill with regard to Iraq in order to attenuate tremendous pressure put upon it since the beginning of heightening foreign infiltration and insurgency in that country. It is not quite sure however that the internal situation in Iraq will get better in the foreseeable future. Thus, Iran may not be able to benefit from the opportunity to form a unified Shiite front in the region.
In conclusion, it seems that if Iran-Iraq rapprochement materializes in the near future, it will eventually change the political alignment and balance of power in the Middle East. This process that has started after the elections and the establishment of the provisional government in Iraq, has assured Iran that a democratically elected government will put the power in the hands of the Shiite majority. This is indeed the ultimate aspiration that fulfills the Islamic revolution aims in the region. Whether the people of Iran is willing to pay the price and forego its incontestable rights for war damage compensations in lieu of political alignment with a Shiite government in Iraq is matter that requires further debates.
* Ali-Asghar Kazemi is professor of international relations, Dean of the Graduate School of Law and Political Science, Islamic Azad University (Science & Research Campus) Tehran- Iran. E-Mail: Kazemiaa@Hotmail.com