In an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, Professor Nader Entessar discussed Iran-Iraq relations and the areas of convergence between the two countries.
* How would you assess the relations between Iran and Iraq, considering the recent visit of the Iraqi security and economic officials to Iran?
As recent developments show, Iran-Iraq relations, will focus more on the state-government axis than on the relationship between Iran and groups and organizations that had in the past operated in parallel or to some degree independent of the Iraqi central government. Of course, this does not mean that Iran will reduce or suspend its cooperation with resistance groups in Iraq, but this cooperation will be coordinated more than ever through the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.
* What are the most important obstacles and challenges in the relations between the two countries?
In addition to the economic obstacles and challenges posed by the US primary and secondary sanctions on Iran-Iraq relations, policies of the countries in the region and tensions between Iran and some of those countries will have negative impact on the expansion of Tehran-Baghdad relations.
* Iraq was the enemy of Iran during the Ba’athist era, and after the fall of Saddam, relations between the two countries entered a new phase of competition and cooperation. What is the significance of this relationship for the two countries?
There is no doubt that Iraq’s long-term goal is to revive its role as an important player in regional politics. This means that in the future, in some cases, Iran and Iraq will be rivals in the region, and in other cases they will cooperate with each other. This is a natural issue in the relations between countries. It is important that Tehran and Baghdad do not allow rivalries to be turned to enmity by making their own decisions, because regional security requires constructive and long-term cooperation between Iran and Iraq.
* During the recent visit of Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein to Iran and meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, he stressed the need to provide preliminaries for the construction and completion of Shalamcheh-Basra railway in order to help expand trade relations between the two countries. He called for the speedy action of the relevant officials of the two countries to launch this railway as soon as possible. In your opinion, what is the importance of this railway and what economic benefits will it bring to the two countries?
Due to the friendly relations that have been established between Iran and Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein, economic relations between the two countries have not expanded to the required level. For example, the volume of public and private sector investment in Iran is very small compared with many other countries. Completion of Shalamcheh-Basra railway will be important in helping to expand trade relations between the two countries if the necessary conditions are provided and if Iran pursues a scanning rather than a passive policy. Otherwise, Shalamcheh-Basra railway will not be efficient by itself.
* One of the important issues in regional cooperation is how the three countries of Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia interact. What effects do you think the cooperation between Iran and Iraq will have on the security order of the Persian Gulf?
Iraq has the potential to play a positive role in creating a balance of power between rival countries in the region. Of course, this requires the passage of time and the establishment of political cohesion in Iraq. Iran-Iraq cooperation can also be useful in forming a new security system in the region.
* According to some reports, Iraq is currently acting as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In your opinion, why Iraq has assumed this role?
Iraq wants to expand its cooperation with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE; because those countries have a vast ability to inject financial resources into Iraq, and Iraq now needs investment more than anything else to develop its economy.
Iraq is also aware that economic prosperity will be difficult for it in the absence of internal security and regional peace. Reducing tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia will help build lasting peace in the region. This is one of the important reasons why Iraq is determined to act as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia.