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History reveals that nations have been engaging in interactions for mutual benefit. Therefore, several and different governments have unceasingly endeavored in the establishment of policies that pursue the improvement of their international relations. Mainly, international relations concentrate on the elements of economic, political, and social undertakings between two or multiple sovereignties. some countries disagree on some aspects of the interactions leading to conflicting situations that pose a grave danger to their prosperity.
Therefore, in the event of conflicts that arise from diverging interests between countries that engaged in healthy interactions previously, the need for intervention is necessary to curb escalation1.
The Iraqi-Iranian relations provide a good example of engagements that turned sour due to conflicting socio-economic and political interests. Notably, Iraqi broke away from the greater Persia where Iran currently sits amid the long history of cultural and religious heritage shared between the two Middle Eastern countries. The relations between the two nations started worsening in 1958 when a revolution occurred in the Iraq as border issues and the scramble over natural resources intensified2.
Up to date, the Iraqi-Iranian relationship has not stabilized fully thereby prompting interventions that include policy formulation to improve their cooperation in different developmental matters. As such, the healthy relations between Iran and Iraq can be restored amid the prevailing political tensions. In this light, this paper identifies the various practical ways of improving the Iraqi-Iranian relations in a bid to foster the peace and development of the Middle East.
The Background of Iraqi-Iranian Relations
The long border that separates the Republic of Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran could be likened to the long history that transcends over millennia between the two Middle Eastern nations. Almost a millennium ago, Iraq comprised a section of Iran, before a series of political and economic struggles prompted its break away. The July 14th Revolution that occurred in Iraq in 1958 propagated a substantial degree of hostility between Iraq and Iran over border issues.
In response, a section of Iranians led by the leftist movement staged the Islamic Revolution in 1979 to counter the invasion of Iraq led by their former President, Saddam Hussein. The developments led to the Iraq-Iran War characterized by chemical weaponry and ethnic clashed primarily between Shia Arabs from both sides that lasted for 8 years3
The culmination of the hostilities occurred in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s authority in Iraq. Since then, the two nations have signed over a hundred agreements that seek to spearhead their political and socio-economic engagements to greater heights than before. Interestingly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the immediate Iranian former President paid Iraq a courtesy visit in 2008, becoming the first President of Iran to set foot in Iraq since the Islamic revolution in 19794.
Additionally, the Iraqi-Iranian relations are improving after the two have backed each other against the advancements of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) on several occasions. Moreover, two Middle Eastern countries comprise a substantial population of the Shi’ite community and thus, they uphold the essence of establishing positive relationships amid the historical antagonism5.
Approaches that would improve the Iraqi-Iranian Relations
Currently, the Iraqi and Iranian governments have shown impressive efforts geared towards strengthening the relationship bonds between the two Middle Eastern sovereignties. Particularly, Iran has been at the forefront in improving the relations between the two states since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s reign in 2003 and after the exit of the U.S troops from Baghdad in 20116. Notably, the depiction of tolerance by the political organs in the two nations suggests that the hope of creating successful relations is still alive. However, to a considerable extent, tensions still exist between the two as far as sensitive political, economic, and social issues prompt debate. Therefore, the need to develop practical approaches that would cement the Iraqi-Iranian relations is appropriate.
The Intensification of Diplomatic Cooperation
In the restoration of bilateral relationships after a period of conflict, the conflicting states need to establish diplomatic structures that foster political, economic, and social ideology compatibilities7.
In this concern, the Iraqi-Iranian relations could realize greater improvement through the identification of the issues that trigger political tensions especially, in Iraq. Notably, Iraq has experienced political instability denoted by the propaganda spread by different political parties and militant organizations in the country since 2003. For instance, the Kurdish militia group in Iraq has continually exerted pressure on the government, thus polluting the political atmosphere in the Middle East.
In 2010, the Iraqi government accused Iran after it allegedly directed its military troops to pursue the Kurdish militia in the former’s territories amid the latter’s intentions to strengthen the Iraqi government8. Therefore, such instances call for the creation of diplomatic approaches that embrace dialogue instead of the portrayal of military might.
Importantly, the conflicting Kurdish and Shi’ite parties in Iraq need to sort their issues through a diplomatic approach. In this concern, the Iranian government has shown interest in uniting the two political parties through the deployment of military personnel in Baghdad on several occasions, but the Iranians have termed such strategies as interfering with their internal political affairs. Alternatively, the Iran could also engage its political allies existing in Iraq to promote the restoration of political stability instead of polarizing the state.
Since Iran has close connections with parties including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the Sadrists, the Badr Organization, and Dawa, it should take the position of influencing them positively to prevent appearance as the nemesis9. In this light, Iran needs to engage its embassy in Baghdad to foster its diplomatic maneuvers instead of influencing Iraq’s political eventualities like in the case of the 2005 elections.
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The need for a diplomatic approach to the political issues and developments occurring in Iraq and Iran is crucial as seen in the tensions experienced in the 2014 elections in Iraq. In the said elections, Iran and the Unites States influenced the outcomes considerably as the latter’s ideal candidate for the Prime Minister’s position, Nuri al-Maliki, lost to Haidar al-Abadi, after the U.S backing10. Therefore, the conflicting interests that Iran and other sovereignties have in Iraq including the U.S require a diplomatic advancement for the realization of shared benefits among the interested parties. As such, Iraq has proved to be a state characterized by political tensions that require a careful approach particularly by its closest ally today, Iran through the employment of diplomatic measures.
The Promotion of Trade
Economic cooperation between two countries is a key aspect that fosters their bilateral interactions even if the involved states experienced animosity in the past. Notably, Saddam Hussein spearheaded the invasion of Iran in 1980 with the partial aim of gaining hold of the oil-rich fields found in the Iranian territories11. In a bid to curtail the possibility of another economic conflict, the two countries need to progress with the spirit of promoting bilateral trade through the development of more economic agreements.
Interestingly, after the signing of multiple economic treaties since 2010, Iran is currently Iraq’s largest trading partner, thus depicting the extent to which an economic problem could be turned into an opportunity for growth and cohesiveness12.
However, the economic interactions between the two states in the recent past have triggered concerns over the economic strategies embraced by Iran. Despite the realization of a net value of trade estimated at $12 billion during the 2013/2014 financial year, Iran has been accused of triggering the collapse of certain Iraqi economic sectors13. In that period, Iran made more exports to Iraq, which denotes the existence of a trade imbalance. Particularly, Iraq has recently accused Iran of derailing the growth of its agriculture and energy sectors.
For instance, Iran endeavored in the deviation of rivers leading to the Shatt al Arab water channel that supports agriculture in southern parts of Iraqi has created resentment among the Iraqi. Furthermore, the alteration of power supplies by the Iranian authorities in the areas around its borders with Iraq besides dumping substandard products in their market has created economic tensions14.
For these reasons, the development of policies that promote fair trade practices is critical for the attainment of healthier economic cooperation between the two Middle Eastern states15. Mainly, the development of policies regarding the international relations between Iran-Iraq would narrow the economic disparities denoted by the dominance of Iran in the trade between the two countries. Additionally, the development of economic agreements needs to focus on the attainment of mutual economic benefits that would tie their relations instead of creating economic feuds caused by selfish interests.
Furthermore, the integration of a neo-liberal approach in the two economies to curb unnecessary political interference is important for the promotion of bilateral trading activities steered by competitiveness. Therefore, the economic aspect of the Iraqi-Iranian relationship is a critical determinant of their future engagements and thus, the development of policies and agreements that seek to bolster their collective economic growth and development is vital.
Collaboration against Extremists, Insurgents, and Militia Groups
Countries affected by a common enemy could join forces to emerge victorious and strengthen their relationship16. The Middle Eastern region is considered the hub of several and different insurgent groups that spread contentious political and religious ideologies that undermine its political stability. Before the exit of the U.S forces from Iraq, Iran collaborated with various militia groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Sadrists’ Mahdi Army with the intention of disrupting the influence of the U.S on the affairs of Iraq17.
However, the strategy proved futile as the Baghdad and Tehran authorities disagreed on using insurgent groups to promote peace. For instance, in 2011, the Iranian government warned Iran of supplying the Shi’ite militias with weaponry to enhance their influence on the country’s politics, a move considered grievous to its internal affairs. In this light, the use of trained military personnel in Iraq proved effective as it facilitated the neutralization of several militias that opposed the government. Therefore, strengthening the military forces of the two states is essential to weaken the advancements of various insurgent organizations that threaten their political stability.
The ISIS is a common enemy to both Iran and Iraq owing to the extremism it has spread not only in the Middle East but also globally today. Therefore, the two countries have the potential of mitigating the prevalence of radicalism in the region as depicted by their efforts geared towards weakening the ISIS so far. The seizure of Mosul in 2011 by ISIS after the exit of the U.S in Iraq prompted Iran to support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) besides organizing the development of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) to secure the country from the radicals.
However, the actual intention of the PMU has created tensions, as some concerned parties perceive it as political strategy adopted by Iranian Shi’ite politicians to influence Iraq’s political climate in future18. As such, tensions still exist between the two countries, thus weakening their relations. Hence, this is another reason for the reinforcement of Iraq’s ISF and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from Iran against the ISIS. Therefore, the development of well-trained and equipped military forces between the two players would sustain the cohesiveness of the Iraqi-Iranian cohesiveness.
Additionally, besides creating profound military forces, the issues raised by Iraq over the development of nuclear weapons by Iran need consideration19. Iran started showing interests of developing nuclear weapons since 2006 for the promotion of peace but the move worried not only Iraq but also the entire global community. The tensions concerning Iran’s move to develop nuclear weaponry intensified in 2010 after it considered erecting the facility close to the Iran-Iraq border. In response, Iraq has continually pursued Iran to comply with the provisions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) depicting its security concerns and fears20.
Therefore, the need for compliance with the internationally set regulations concerning nuclear weapons is essential for Iran to improve its relations with Iraq as well as the entire world community since it is an issue of global interest. Importantly, Iran needs to stick with its argument that it developed the nuclear reactors for peaceful ambitions amid the rising speculations about the move’s actual intentions.
The current Iraqi-Iranian relations still portray hopes of realizing greater cohesiveness in spite of the several challenges that it experiences. Historically, Iran and Iraq share a precious religious and ethnic heritage that bound them for several millennia. However, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 created hostilities between the two states before their relations improved in after Saddam Hussein’s demise in 2003.
However, the Middle Eastern countries ought to reinforce their determination in realizing stronger bonds in the politically volatile region. Essentially, both states should uphold the essence of engaging in diplomatic processes in conflicting situations and thus, disregard the employment of force as the first resort. Furthermore, Iran and Iraq ought to balance their trading interactions for the enjoyment of benefits in an equitable way that would eventually enhance their bilateral relations.
Moreover, the establishment of appropriate defensive mechanisms by reinforcing the ISF and IROC military organizations from Iraq and Iran correspondingly besides the latter’s observance of the IAEA’s provisions regarding nuclear advancements is vital for improving the Iraqi-Iranian relations.
Blight, James, Janet Lang, Hussein Banai, Malcom Byrne, and John Tirman. International Relations: Becoming Enemies: US-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979–1988. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
Kamel, Amir. The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran: An Assessment of the Trade-peace Relationship. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
Lieber, Keir, and Daryl Press. “Why States Won’t Give Nuclear Weapons to Terrorists.” International Security 38, no. 1 (2013): 80-104.
Murray, Donette. US foreign policy and Iran: American-Iranian relations since the Islamic revolution. London, Routledge, 2009.
Murray, Williamson, and Kevin Woods. The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Romano, David, and Mehmet Gurses. Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
- Amir Kamel, The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran: An Assessment of the Trade-peace Relationship (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 76.
- Donette Murray, US foreign policy and Iran: American-Iranian relations since the Islamic revolution (London, Routledge, 2009), 45.
- Williamson Murray and Kevin Woods, The Iran-Iraq War: A Military and Strategic History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 104.
- Murray, 65.
- Murray and Woods, 108.
- James Blight, Janet Lang, Hussein Banai, Malcom Byrne, and John Tirman. International Relations: Becoming Enemies: US-Iran Relations and the Iran-Iraq War, 1979–1988 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield), 97.
- Murray, 72.
- David Romano and Mehmet Gurses, Conflict, Democratization, and the Kurds in the Middle East: Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 77.
- Murray, 88.
- Blight, Lang, Banai, Byrne, and Tirma, 112.
- Kamel, 98.
- Romano and Gurses, 81.
- Murray, 44.
- Kamel, 106.
- Murray and Woods, 107.
- Blight, Lang, Banai, Byrne, and Tirma, 129.
- Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, “Why States Won’t Give Nuclear Weapons to Terrorists,” International Security 38, no. 1 (2013): 83.