Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Iran, Iraq: Ahmadinejad in Baghdad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning a visit to Iraq in the near future to hold talks with senior Iraqi officials. The announcement of Ahmadinejad's visit strongly suggests that Tehran is close to consolidating its position in Iraq. READ MORE


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will soon travel to Baghdad, Iraq, along with a high-ranking political and economic delegation, to meet with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and other senior Iraqi officials, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported June 26.

Iran has been heavily involved in the Iraqi political process and has been engaged in intense back-channel negotiations with the United States to lay out a blueprint for Iraq. Ahmadinejad's decision to visit Baghdad at this point highlights the progress made in these talks. In response to the announcement of Ahmadinejad's travel plans, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack gave the United States' tacit approval of the trip, saying, "We encourage them to have good, transparent, neighborly relations."

Now that a government is in place in Baghdad, the United States expects Iran to play a major role in stabilizing Iraq using the variety of levers it has developed in Iraq's political and militant circles. As Gen. George Casey, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, has strongly hinted in recent days, the U.S. ability to draw down its troop presence in Iraq will depend on the prevention of a major Shiite uprising in southern Iraq.

The Shia in Iraq are currently engaged in an intense power struggle as the final decisions on how power will be distributed among the Shiite community -- and, most important, who will control the oil fields of southern Iraq -- are being made. As Shiite infighting intensifies, Iran has an interest in using its influence among the Iraqi Shiite bloc to demonstrate its ability to rein in the Shiite militias and move the political process forward in Baghdad. The understanding is that if Iran delivers on its end of the bargain and stabilizes the Shiite community in Iraq, this will act as an enabler for a U.S. troop withdrawal. In turn, Washington will help ensure that Iran's goals are met through the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, which would promote Iranian interests and allow Iran a significant stake in the southern oil fields.

Preparations in Iran are under way to seal the pending deal in Iraq and to begin a public dialogue with the United States. Ahmadinejad's visit will set off a chain of developments that will bring to light the complexities of Iran's relationship with the United States.

Copyright 2006 Strategic Forecasting Inc. All rights reserved.