With Donald Trump out of the White House, aspiring benefactors have thrown their hats, or turbans, into the ring as mediators between Tehran and Washington.
First, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was ready to seize the opportunity of Joe Bidens’ victory to build a bridge with Iran. Then it was the turn of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to don the mantle of honest broker. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan also reflected on mediation.
Last week Qatar’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani visited Tehran to offer mediation. The last to join the queue is Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Iraqi National Wisdom Movement.
Interestingly, all of the aspiring mediators come from countries that have their own issues with the Islamic Republic – issues they have failed to resolve after four decades of diplomatic zigzags.
In some cases, these problems constitute major obstacles to full normalization with the Khomeinist regime. In others, the problems are undergrowth, a diplomatic term for irritants that are not threatening enough to merit open hostility.
Going through all the problems Tehran has with France, Russia, Pakistan, Qatar, and Iraq would require a lot more space than a column. So let’s just focus on the issues between Iraq and Iran.
Why wouldn’t Ammar al-Hakim offer mediation between Tehran and Baghdad to clear the brush, mend bilateral relations and restore normalcy after four decades of war, intrigue and tension? Al-Hakim is well placed for this task.
He comes from an old Persian family and spent many years in Iran. His grandfather was the highest Marja al-Taqlid (source of emulation) of the Shiites for a decade. By blood or by marriage, he is linked to great clerical families in Iran and Iraq. In Iraq, his party is one of the largest and, unlike most rival Shia groups, receives a nod and a wink from Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
What are the problems it should solve?
First, it must persuade Tehran to treat Iraq as an independent nation-state, and not as a glaze for the Islamic Republic in its campaign to export the revolution.
The daily Kayhan, reflecting the views of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, published an editorial on Monday on the visit of Ayatollah Raisi, head of Islamic justice, to Iraq. He concluded that while the borders are important and must be respected, the visit showed that our revolution has dissolved the nations in the Ummah.
Circles in Tehran speak of the Qasr Shirin Treaty between Iran and the Ottoman Empire which gave Iran the right to oversee sacred shrines in Iraq. All of this is perhaps nothing more than fruitless discussions which Khomeinists revel in.
However, what is not in vain is raising, arming and financing militias controlled by the Quds corps. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of Tehran, spoke of occasions when the Quds Corps had directly intervened in Iraqi affairs.
The late General Qassem Soleimani recounted how he often traveled to Iraq without the Iraqi government knowing what he was doing. In the case of his shenanigans in Syria, at least, he claimed to have received an invitation from Bashar al-Assad.
The next question would be for the Islamic Republic to stop bombing Iraqi villages, supposedly as a right of fierce pursuit against Kurdish terrorists. Tehran media notes that Turkey is doing the same in Iraq. They forget that Turkey had permission from Saddam Hussein who was in charge of the government at the time.
The next item on the agenda could be to redefine the borders between the two neighbors according to the Algiers agreement of 1975. With good will, most of the changes brought about by the 1980-88 war could be corrected. quickly. The agenda could be the creation of a mechanism to implement UN Resolution 598 which ended the war, to resolve issues such as the responsibility to start hostilities, the payment of reparations and the drafting of a peace treaty to legally end the state of war.
The issue of the thousands of war dead and missing whose fate is unknown could also be addressed, ending decades of suffering by many Iranian and Iraqi families who lost loved ones in this tragedy. (Last week, Russia tracked down and buried at military peak the mortal remains of dozens of French soldiers killed in action during the Napoleonic invasion two centuries ago.)
Another point could be the resumption of a 1976 Iranian pilgrimage agreement to Shia shrines to end uncontrolled visits often led by black merchants linked to security services on both sides.
President Hassan Rouhani said Iraq is now Iran’s largest foreign market with more than $ 10 million in imported goods. Much of this, however, is due to the underground economy. The rest is handled by individual smugglers who cross the border on foot or by mules.
Relaunching the 1977 trade deal could help end the current chaos and allow Tehran and Baghdad to earn revenue from tariffs and taxes. Establishing mutually agreed-upon rules on charities could also help reduce money laundering and tax evasion through bogus religious charities linked to crime syndicates and security services.
Another problem concerns binationals.
Around 1.2 million Iraqis also hold Iranian identity papers while neither Iraq nor Iran recognizes dual nationality. This creates huge problems for many, including children of dual nationality born in Iran or Iraq. The issue of Iraqis overdue payments for electricity imported from Iran could also be on the agenda while old agreements on the flow of water from Iranian rivers flowing into Iraq could be reviewed.
The ecological crisis in the southern swamps (80% in Iraq, 20% in Iran) also requires cooperation through a joint agency.
Experts say the Majnun Islands, shared by Iran and Iraq, are one of the largest oil fields in the world. However, despite the interest of more than 30 oil companies, no large-scale exploitation is possible without normalization between Iran and Iraq.
The 1977 draft continental shelf agreement could be quickly activated, allowing the redevelopment of Um al-Qasr as a deep-water port. This in turn would finalize the similar agreement that Iran, under the Shah, signed with Kuwait. The great enchilada in al-Hakims’ imaginary mediation would be the reopening of Shatt al-Arab, the border waterway closed and clogged up during the war. Reopened, the Shatt could ensure the rebirth of Basra in Iraq and Khorramshahr in Iran which were the largest ports in the region for centuries. Dredging and renovating the waterway could cost some $ 20 billion, to consider if the two sides created a joint shipping management agency.
Ah, we’ve dropped the word normalization.
If the Islamic Republic cannot normalize its relations even with Iraq, how could it normalize itself with the Great American Satan? There could be no normalization with a regime whose leader publicly declares that we will never be a normal country.
If wise Ammar wants to mediate, let him start with his two homelands.
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