Iran and the US Both Benefit from a Stable Iraq

The recent visit of Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi to Iran was the latest in a series of high-level diplomatic exchanges between Tehran and Baghdad. The bilateral relationship, which has gone from adversarial to friendly as a result of the 2003 US overthrow of the Saddam-era regime, appears to be going from strength to strength. But with the threat of ISIS receding, Iraq may increasingly emerge as a battleground for influence between Iran and the US.

Iran’s interests in its western neighbour are four-fold: ensuring that Iraq will not regain enough strength to once again pose a territorial threat; using its influence to keep parties in power that are beholden and friendly to Iran; countering political or military tendencies that would undermine Iraq’s territorial integrity; and ensuring that Tehran’s strategic rivals cannot use the country as a springboard for challenging Iran. Hence Iran’s opposition to moves toward Kurdish independence and sponsorship of paramilitary units (Hashd al-Shaabi) operating in an ambivalent legal grey zone within the framework of the state, as well as its relationships with an array of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political factions. Iran has growing economic interests, too, the significance of which rises for Iran as US sanctions squeeze its economy. “Today, our economic cooperation [with Iraq] amounts to $12 billion a year”, President Hassan Rouhani indicated upon setting off on a three-day visit to Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf last month. “We can easily increase this to $20 billion in the coming years”.

Iran-Iraq: The Benefits of Being Good Neighbors
Alexander Maryasov
Former regional rivals, Iran and Iraq are going through hard times. Half-ruined after the US invasion, Iraq, that has just rid itself of the ISIS nightmare and not without help from its eastern neighbor, is trying to consolidate its domestic political life and start economic recovery. Plagued by financial and socio-economic problems as a result of toughening US sanctions, Iraq is looking for ways to weaken foreign pressure and survive under crisis conditions

As the US begins to reduce its military footprint in Syria following ISIS’s territorial defeat, President Trump has indicated his preference for keeping troops in Iraq “to watch Iran”. For Washington, Iraq is an increasingly important front in the “maximum pressure” campaign that aims to curb Iran’s regional power projection. The US has wielded sanctions designations against local militias allied with Iran and is urging Iraq to reduce its reliance on Iranian electricity and gas imports, which Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March suggested are Tehran’s means “to create a vassal state” in Iraq. However, as underscored by a series of time-limited U.S. sanctions waivers, there is no quick fix: Iraqi officials estimate that it will take years to build up alternatives to Iranian supplies.

Iraqi leaders have been clear in expressing their opposition to having the region’s cold wars thrust upon them. “Iraq is part of this region and it is in our interest to enjoy good relations with Iran based on common interests”, Iraqi President Barham Salih recently asserted. The reverse is also true: Iran and the US both benefit from a stable Iraqi government and preventing the country from once more becoming a security vacuum; so does Saudi Arabia, which has of late stepped up its profile in the country, as well as Russia.

In the zero-sum logic that has come to characterise much of the region’s dynamics, especially after the beginning of the Syrian conflict, those common interests risk being undermined by a destabilising geopolitical contest. “Any escalation in the region would make us all losers”, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi declared, following the April 8th US decision to blacklist Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. It would be much healthier for all stakeholders to compete in developing Iraq and thus preserve their gains there than to use it to thwart one another.

How Could the Growing Ties Between Iran and Iraq Benefit Moscow?
Hamidreza Azizi
Moscow has always tried to establish good relations with all the countries of the region, while showing great interest toward preserving the regional balance of power and preventing any clashes between competing regional powers. As such, the current trend in relations between Iran and Iraq seems to have Russia’s support as well.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.