March 13, 2019
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took a massive delegation with him to Baghdad on Monday. He showed them off at a long table in meetings with Iraqi officials; at least 16 men were present on each side. Together they are signing a variety of agreements that aim to cement the Iranian alliance with Iraq.
It’s all about appearances in this visit. Iran wants to show its power in Iraq and illustrate that it is the country’s strongest partner. Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, said that on the first day of the Iran-Iraq summit, business leaders and officials had agreed on new visa arrangements, a new railway and joint industrial zones that aimed to increase trade to $20 billion. “Two more days, two more cities” he tweeted.
Haydar al-Khoei, an Iraq-based analyst, illustrated the symbolism in this visit by juxtaposing it with US President Donald Trump’s visit in December last year. Rouhani welcomed him with an actual red carpet. Trump spoke to US troops and left. Baxtiyar Goran, a journalist and commentator from the Kurdistan region of Iran, said the contrast is that the “US doesn’t recognize Iraq’s sovereignty: Iran controls Iraq’s sovereignty.”
This represents the debate taking place in Iraq today. After the defeat of ISIS, the question is not only who will control Iraq but also whether Baghdad can retake its sovereignty and act independently after years of war and instability. Some Iraqi lawmakers, especially those linked to Shi’ite political parties, are trying to get the US to leave Iraq. At a Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee meeting, according to Iraq watcher David M. Witty, a statement noted that “Iraq will not become a milk cow for the US. We will not comply with US demands that we pay for US presence in Iraq. We will vote on a law soon requiring the end of foreign forces in Iraq.”
From Iran’s point of view, nothing could be going better in this visit. Tehran will showcase its alliance and meet with sectors of society, including Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shi’ite cleric who helped raise the militias that fought ISIS. Zarif says that the US cannot stop Iran’s increasing relations with Iraq. But he seeks to downplay the view that Iran is too heavy-handed there. “We are not here to take action against any country or interfere in any country,” he said.
The Jerusalem Post