With Donald Trump’s departure from the White House, doers of good 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 take advantage of Joe Biden’s chances of victory to build a bridge with Iran. Then, it was the turn of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who wore an honest intermediary robe. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is also pondering about mediation.
Last week, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani traveled to Tehran to offer mediation. The last to join the line was Ammar al-Hakim, leader of the Iraqi National Policy Movement.
Interestingly, all of the potential mediators come from countries that have their own problems with the Islamic Republic – issues they have failed to resolve after four decades of diplomatic zigzags.
In some cases, this problem became a major obstacle to full normalization of the Khomein regime. In other cases, the problem is “the bush,” a diplomatic term for hot-tempered men who is not threatening enough to generate open hostility.
Tackling all the problems Tehran has with France, Russia, Pakistan, Qatar and Iraq will take more space than columns. So, let’s focus on the problem between Iraq and Iran.
Why didn’t Ammar al-Hakim offer to mediate between Tehran and Baghdad to get rid of the “bush”, restore bilateral relations and restore normality after four decades of war, intrigue and tension? Al-Hakim was well placed for the task.
He comes from an old Persian family and spent many years in Iran. His grandfather was Marj’a al-Taqlid (Source of Emulation) the highest Shia for a decade. By blood or marriage, he is associated with large clerical families in Iran and Iraq. In Iraq his party is one of the largest, and, unlike most of the rival Shiite groups, gets nods and winks from Ayatollah Ali Sistani the Great.
What problems should he mediate?
First, he must persuade Tehran to treat Iraq as an independent nation-state, not glacis for the Islamic Republic in its campaign for an “export revolution”.
The Kayhan daily, which reflects the views of “Supreme Advisor” Ali Khamenei, published an editorial on Monday about the visit of Ayatollah Ra’isi, head of the Islamic court, to Iraq. It concluded that “although borders are important and must be respected”, the visit demonstrated that “our revolution has dissolved nations into the ummah”.
The Tehran circle talks about the Qasr Shirin Treaty between Iran and the Ottoman Empire which gave Iran “control rights” over the “holy places” in Iraq. All of that was probably nothing more than gibberish about the fun-loving Khomein type.
What was not nonsense, however, was upgrading, arming, and funding the militias controlled by the Quds Corps. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, an ally of Tehran, has spoken of instances when the Quds Corps directly intervened in Iraqi affairs.
The late General Qassem Soleimani spoke about how he often went to Iraq without telling the Iraqi government what he was doing. In the case of his crimes in Syria, at least, he claims to have received an invitation from Bashar al-Assad.
The next problem is for the Islamic Republic to stop bombarding Iraqi villages it deems “right-of-pursuit” against “Kurdish terrorists”. The Tehran media noted that Turkey did the same in Iraq. They forgot that Turkey got permission from Saddam Hussein who led the government at that time.
Next on the agenda is to rearrange the borders between the two neighbors according to the 1975 Algiers Accord. With good intentions, most of the changes caused by the 1980-88 war can be quickly corrected. The next item could be the creation of mechanisms to implement United Nations Resolution 598 ending war, to resolve issues such as responsibility for initiating hostilities, paying reparations and drafting a peace treaty to legally end the state of war.
The problem of thousands of wars killed and lost in action whose fate is unknown can also be resolved, ending decades of suffering by the many Iranian and Iraqi families who lost loved ones in the tragedy. (Last week, the Russians found and buried with military clocks the full remains of dozens of French soldiers who died in battle during Napoleon’s invasion two centuries ago.)
Another thing could be the resurgence of a 1976 agreement on Iranian pilgrimages to Shiite “holy sites” to end uncontrolled visits often led by black marketers linked to security services on both sides.
President Hassan Rouhani said Iraq is now Iran’s biggest foreign market with more than $ 10 million in goods imported. However, most of that happens in a black economy. The remainder is handled by individual smugglers who cross borders on foot or mules.
The resurgence of the 1977 trade agreement could help end the current turmoil and allow Tehran and Baghdad to secure revenue from tariffs and taxation. Establishing mutually accepted rules on charities could also help curb money laundering and tax evasion through fake religious charities linked to crime syndicates and security services.
Another problem concerns dual nationality.
An estimated 1.2 million Iraqis also hold Iranian identity documents while neither Iraqi nor Iran recognize dual nationality. This creates huge problems for many people, including the children of two citizens born in Iran or Iraq. The issue of unpaid Iraqi electricity bills imported from Iran could also be on the agenda while the old agreement on the discharge of water from Iranian rivers flowing into Iraq could be put forward for review.
The ecological crisis in the southern marshes (80 percent in Iraq, 20 percent in Iran) also calls for cooperation through common bodies.
Experts claim that the Majnun Islands, which are owned by Iran and Iraq, represent one of the largest oil fields in the world. However, despite the interests of more than 30 oil companies, no large-scale exploitation is possible without normalization between Iran and Iraq.
The draft 1977 continental shelf agreement could quickly activate, allowing the rebuilding of Um al-Qasr as a deep sea port. That will in turn finalize a similar agreement Iran, under the Shah, signed with Kuwait. The big enchilada in al-Hakim’s imaginary mediation was the reopening of Shatt al-Arab, the border waterway was closed and blocked during the war. Reopening, Shatt can ensure the rise of Basra in Iraq and Khorramshahr in Iran, the region’s largest port for centuries. Dredging and renovating the waterway could cost around $ 20 billion, worth considering if the two parties form a joint navigation management body.
Ah, we omitted the word “normalization”.
If the Islamic Republic cannot normalize relations even with Iraq, how can it be normal with America’s “Great Satan”? There can be no normalization with a regime whose leader openly says “We will never be a normal country.”
If Ammar is wise to intervene, let him start with his two hometowns.