Iran Millitary Visit to Iraq Sets Politicians' Tongues Wagging

The visit of Iran’s Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and the head of Tehran’s revolutionary Al-Quds force to Iraq has drawn the ire of opposition lawmakers, who accuse Iran of seeking to undermine Iraqi sovereignty. Ali Abdelamir reports. 

al-monitor Iraqi officials inspect an Iranian cargo plane at Baghdad's airport on Oct. 2, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Iraqi Civil Aviation Authority/Handout.

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quds force, nouri al-maliki, jalal talabani, iranian defense minister, iran

Oct 12, 2012

Amid the influx of senior Iranian security leaders to Iraq, and following the statements of Iranian ambassador to Baghdad Hassan Dannai Far to As-Safir that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to visit Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki upon the latter’s return from Moscow, some Iraqi politicians are voicing concerns about mounting Iranian pressure on "Iran's western neighbor" to establish bilateral, regional and security-based cooperation between the two countries.

Meanwhile, other Iraqi politicians said that these visits come within the framework of security "coordination," which necessitates a meeting between the visiting Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi and Iraqi security leaders in the cities, where the Iranian senior official is scheduled to visit Shiite shrines. Indeed, Vahidi met with one of the leaders of the Samarra Operations Command, part of the Iraqi army 4th Division.

A few days ago, the commander of the Quds Forces (a special unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard), Qasem Soleimani, paid an unannounced visit to the Kurdistan region, where he met with Kurdish President Jalal Talibani and his top aides in Sulaymaniyah. The commander also met with the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Nechirvan Barzani, and discussed Iraqi and regional affairs with them, as he had earlier visited both Turkey and Syria.

Afterwards, Vahidi arrived to Baghdad, where he said: "Iraq and Iran have many things in common. There are many projects at the political, security, economic and cultural levels that require relations between Iran and Iraq to rise to the best levels."

He stressed that "Iraq holds a special position in the foreign policy and defense diplomacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Vahidi's visit to Iraq coincided with United States' warnings against an "alliance" between Baghdad and Tehran, which some US officials delivered to Prime Minister Maliki.

While Vahidi was in Baghdad seeking to "lay the foundations of bilateral and regional security cooperation with Iraq," some US sources published information revealing that Washington was well aware of Iran’s influence in the "new Iraq."

Moreover, it has been reported that Soleimani, who said that The New York Times report had "confused" Americans in Iraq, serves as Maliki's security adviser. He was one of those to have warned the opponents of the prime minister against Shiite movements and forces, in an attempt to get them to side with Maliki and obediently carry out his orders.

This was the case of the Supreme Council, the National Congress Party, the National Iraqi Alliance Party, and the Sadrist movements. The head of the Sadrist movement has recently revealed that Soleimani went with Maliki to Iran, where he was pressured not to travel to Erbil, in the Kurdish region.

The Iranian defense minister’s meeting with Iraqi security leaders in Baghdad showed a consensus on the situation in Syria.

Among a series of meetings, Vahidi met with Iraq’s national security adviser, Faleh al-Fayad.

According to Iranian sources, Vahidi said that "the foreign intervention in the region's affairs undermines its security," stressing that "the US and some Western countries' support of terrorist criminals is dragging the region into chaos."

This was made in reference to the developments in Syria. Fayad said that he deplored the "intervention of foreign countries in the Syrian crisis," confirming that the "foreign countries' support of terrorists has escalated the crisis and led to a lack of security."

Iran did not miss the opportunity to take advantage of its defense minister's visit to Baghdad to spite Washington, Baghdad's other "ally." According to the Iranian news agency Fars, "the visit of the Iranian defense minister was more useful and significant than that of the US secretaries of defense and foreign affairs."

Since it is the custom for Iranian officials to visit holy locations during their stay in Iraq, Vahidi visited Shiite shrines in the cities of Karbala and Najaf.

It must be noted that Najaf was "ground zero" of the sectarian war in the country, when the the Al-Askari shrine was bombed in an terrorist attack that generated waves of reprisals between Shiites and Sunnis.

The most surprising thing is that Vahidi met with security officials in Samara, the city that is accused of fomenting sectarian strife.

Moreover, the "Shiite Waqf" endowment is accused of implementing certain measures that are changing the religious endowments of the city, from Sunni to Shiite ownership. The Iraqi government has denied these charges.

According to the spokesman for the Iraqiya List, Haydar al-Mulla, the meetings between the Iranian Defense Minister and Iraqi officials in Samara constituted a violation of national sovereignty. He stressed that "the danger of the Iranian defense minister’s visit to Samara lies in his meetings with Iraqi security leaders, which constituted a violation to the most basic concepts of national sovereignty."

Mulla criticized the amicable position of some Iraqi forces toward Tehran, paving the way for Iranian influence and control.

"Iran is addressing Iraq as if it were its own subsidiary, with the blessing of some political parties," he said. "One of the major problems today in Iraq, after 2003, is the double standards and selective application of the constitution and laws. We, as the Iraqiya List, are keen to adopt the best relations for Iraq with neighboring countries, whether Arab or not," he added.

Pro-opposition politicians said that "the Baghdad-based government is dealing with the foreign intervention in Syria based on two different perspectives."

They added that "the visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu to the Kurdistan region and to the disputed city of Kirkuk has created a furor within the Iraqi government. However, the government did not object to the visit of the Quds Force Commander, Soleimani."

In this context, Mulla said that the Iraqiya List's position toward Davutolgu's visit was clear — the list welcomes this visit as long as it does not undermine Iraq's sovereignty.

"The Iraqiya List is taking the same position toward Vahidi's visit, who is touring the Iraqi territories and meeting with Iraqi security leaders, violating the most basic concepts of respect and sovereignty," Mulla said.

It must be noted that Davutolgu visited the Kurdistan region in early August, where he met with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani. Davutoglu then paid a visit to the city of Kirkuk and met with the city's council chairman, and with Turkmen leaders, which are often described as being loyal to Ankara.

Iraqi officials who support Prime Minister Maliki and parties close to Iran strongly condemned Davutoglu's visit, deeming it a blatant interference in Iraq's affairs.

The Iraqi government ordered the formation of a committee to study the visit's merits, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani. The government also issued a set of recommendations, which were delivered to Ankara through the Turkish Ambassador.

Ankara was urged to "put an end to such provocative actions that would threaten Turkish interests in Iraq were they to be repeated."

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