PARIS, 5 July (IPS) The surprise hand over of powers from the Americans to the Washington-installed Iraqi government on 28 of June, 48 hours before the official date surprised the Iranians as well.
Being one of the very few nations to recognise the Iraqi Provisory Council when it was installed by the Americans six months ago, Tehran rather quickly reacted to the event, albeit cautiously.
Iran's Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi described the formal handover of authority to the Iraqi interim Government of Mr. Iyad Alawi on Monday as “a step toward establishing a popular government and restoring full popular sovereignty”.
The transfer of power from the Americans to the Iraqi government and end of occupationis a positive step.
"The transfer of power to the Iraqi government and end of occupation, which is taking place on the basis of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, is a positive step", he said, quoted by the conservatives-controlled Radio and Television.
"We welcome any step which is taken in line with handing over Iraq's affairs to the country's public majority as well as ending occupation", Mr. Abdollah Ramezanzadeh, the official government spokesman said last week.
"We hope the transfer of power will be in this direction and help end occupation and establish a system based on the views and votes of the people," he told reporters at a weekly news briefing, referring to the low-key ceremony in Baghdad, during which the US “Vice Roy” Paul Bremer handed the transfer document to Iraq leaders, formally ending 14-month “occupation” of the oil-rich Middle Eastern nation. "This is a historic day, a happy day, a day that all Iraqis have been looking forward to", Iraqi President Sheykh Ghazi Yawar told the semi secret ceremony.
The two countries are starting to come to terms with a destructive war, which they fought between 1980 and 1988 under the regime of Saddam Hussein, who also attacked neighbouring Kuwait.
Either Iran and Iraq would embark on a marriage of raison, like the one signed between France and Germanyor revert to old rivalries, antagonism, animosity and hating, paving the way for another war, Iranian analysts said, talking to Iran Press Service.
Either they would embark on a marriage of raison, like the one signed between France and Germany after the last World War, -- a liaison that turned into a love affair, as seen from the latest polls that shows that eighty per cent of Germans consider France as their most trusted and closest allies and friends – and together, becoming the political and economic locomotive of the region, the same role Paris and Berlin plays in Europe, or revert to old rivalries, antagonism, animosity and hating, paving the way for another war, Iranian analysts said, talking to Iran Press Service.
Even if the transfer of power is more virtual than real, the event opens new chapter in the tumultuous, love and hate relations between Iran and Iraq, but the big question is whether the two neighbours could turn it into a love or hate chapter.
“Iran’s Arab and Iraq relations are full of mutual hate having their roots in both history and religion. Both they need very wise, broad minded and courageous leaders to make full use of the new situation. For the time being, we don’t see any personality of the calibre of a (Charles) De Gaulle or (Konrad) Adenauer pointing in the horizons, at least in Tehran, where the present clerical leaders are too short sighted of Lilliputians and in Baghdad, we don’t know who might emerge and which direction the country might go”, one analyst told us, referring to the French and German leaders that signed the Franco-German Pact of Friendship more than fifty years ago.
Although the interim government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi will have full sovereignty, there are important constraints on its powers. Not only it can not make long-term policy decisions and has not control over more than 160,000 foreign troops who will remain in Iraq “on his demand”, but also faces growing insecurity due to the activities of a number of criminal groups, foreign-paid terrorists, islamist suicide-squads and local guerrillas to name some.
“The iraquisation of the situation in Baghdad would place in a new dimension the Iran-Iraq relations. Until now, Iran’s declared opposition to the presence of occupation forces in Iraq and its backing of groups fighting the Americans was welcomed by the majority of the Iraqis and even many members of the government. But from now on, whatever Tehran says or does concerning Iraq would be dealt directly by the Iraqi government, regarding it as a hostile or friendly act”, said Mr. Sa’id Shervini, an Iranian analyst specialising in the Middle Eastern affairs based in Germany.
In his view, the continuation of the presence of American forces, “a liability that Prime Minister Alawi can not govern without it” can provide the “necessary” pretext to any force that, for whatever reason, does not want to see peace and stability coming back to Iraq.
Some pundits places the Islamic Republic in this category, observing that the emergence of a real democracy in Iraq, -- one that would be more of the American type -- would be a “tremendous” encouragement to Iranian forces fighting for the rule of democracy and secularism in their own country.
But others are more optimistic. “Not only many of the present Iraqi ministers and personalities are friends of Iran, not only some of them have lived in Iran and enjoyed protection and assistance, but also Iran has been one of the first nations to officially recognise the Provisory Council and kept an embassy in Baghdad”, Dr. Assadollah Athari, a University professor in Tehran told the semi-independent Iranian students news agency ISNA.
“Although Iranians are happy with the fall of Saddam Hussein, but at the same time are unhappy with the occupation of Iraq by the Americans and the presence of a huge American force at their doors”, he added.
Dr Mohammad Ali Basiri, another scholar in Tehran says maybe the Iraqi government is not to the Iranians liking one hundred per cent, but one has to agree that it is one hundred per cent better than that of Saddam Hussein.
“Anyway, this (the transfer of powers to the Iraqis) is a good start allowing Iran to establish sound and friendly relations with its neighbours, promising better days for the future”, he told the same ISNA agency.
Dr Mohsen Jalilvand, a professor of international relations is also convinced that Iran would “do its best” to accommodate Mr. Alawi’s government, “but, he points out, Iraq must also keep in mind the conditions, situation and interests of Iran as one of the region’s most powerful nations”.
There is no doubt that with their natural resources, mostly oil, an energy that places them behind Saudi Arabia but combined together, makes them the largest producer and exporter in the world, enjoying the region’s most educated cadres and strongest armies, both war experienced and bound by the same Shi’a faith, the Tehran-Baghdad couple would be a tremendous force that every one would have to reckon with.
As Mr. Athari had said, the Kurdish and the Shi’a members of the Iraqi government are among Iran’s best friends, since the Sh’ia-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI) was formed in Iran and the leaders of the two main Kurdish parties have always maintained close ties with Tehran.
But the speculative creation of such a strong tandem not only would also change dramatically the traditional game play of the strategic region, but also raising hairs in Tel Aviv, Ankara and Riyadh in the one hand, Washington and London on the other.
Thinking that the Iraqi government, because it is installed and backed by the Americans would cross the Rubicon and recognise Israel is just a wishful thinking, as seen by the Afghan experience, where President-Prime Minister Hamed Karzai, also placed on the saddle in Kabul by the Americans, has yet to establish relations with the Jewish State, even in the de facto form.
“In the best of situations, Mr. Alawi would close his eyes to the presence of Israel in the region and live the problem for the future Iraqi parliament”, said one Iraqi journalist.
The likelihood is the formation of an opposite axis made of Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, all three American’s best allies in the region, backed by Washington, to the Iran-Iraq duo that, in turn, would have the “natural” support of the European Union, -- plus or minus Britain --.
Ankara and Tel-Aviv are already working closely together in the military, security and intelligence fields, to the ire of Iran, Egypt, Jordan and Syria and although Turkish-Israeli relations had been downgraded by the Turkish government and parliament controlled by the moderate Islam-based Justice and Development Party because of Israel’s operations against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the military cooperation continues unabated.
For its part, Saudi Arabia had offered the Jewish State normalisation of relations with all Arab nations under Crown Prince Abdollah’s “peace for land” plan that was submitted to the Arab Summit in Beirut two years ago, but “dismissed” by Israel. Besides, the Saudis, who in great majority are Wahabites, considers the Shi’a as “heretics” and “outside” the Islam faith in the one hand and hates the Kurds, regarding them as being of Iranian “ajami” (stranger) extract, therefore “enemies of the Arabs”.
“The big question now is whether Iranians and Iraqis could be wise and intelligent enough to resist all sorts of provocations, manipulations, political manoeuvrings and malicious propaganda that the enemies of the Iran-Iraq rapprochement would downpour on them, pushing for a new war”, asked Mr. Parviz Mardani, a Germany-based independent Iranian journalist. ENDS IRAN IRAQ RELATIONS 5704