INTERNATIONAL

Iran steps up efforts to enhance profile in post-war Iraq

MANAMA Sept. 6. Sensing that the U.S. occupation may not prolong indefinitely, Iran has stepped up efforts to enhance its profile in post-war Iraq. The presence of the hostile regime of former President Saddam Hussein had politically edged out Iran from its neighbouring country for over two decades. Iran and Iraq had also fought a bitter eight year war in the eighties, which Teheran perceived was part of a western backed plot to roll back its Islamic revolution.

Iran, therefore did see the departure of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq earlier this year in a positive development, but, was also alarmed that the power vacuum in Baghdad left behind with the exit of the Baathist regime was filled by a hostile United States-a much more powerful adversary. With U.S. forces already present in Afghanistan, Iran saw itself locked in pincer along two sides of its international border. But of late, Iran has begun to sense that the U.S. presence in Iraq may not be permanent and some of its officials are going public in sounding this sentiment. In a recent interview to the Iranian English daily Iran News, Iran's Charge d' Affaires in Iraq, Ali-Reza Haghighian pointed out that "the people of Iraq have a rich culture, history and civilization. They are unlikely to accept foreign occupation much longer. The U.S. -led coalition appears to have recognised this reality and is trying to internationalise its efforts in Iraq." Not surprisingly, the Iranian side has begun to actively engage the U.S. backed Iraqi governing council, which it has described as "broad based and multi ethnic" and made up of "prominent former opposition figure." In a statement issued earlier this week at the end of the visit of the Jordan's King Abdullah II to Teheran, both sides "welcomed the establishment of the Iraqi Governing Council, and described it as a step toward handing over the power to the Iraqi people."

A delegation from the Iraqi Governing council is expected to visit Teheran soon. Iranian policy makers appear have done their homework for engaging a post-war dispensation in Iraq. The brother of the slain Shia leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr Al Hakim, is a member of the Iraqi governing council.

The late Ayatollah Hakim was known to be a close friend of Iran where he was in exile for 23 years, and this was evident when the Iranian Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saw him off the airport prior to his departure for Iraq in May this year. Ayatollah Hakim's recent assassination, however has been a big blow to Iranian interests in Iraq.

Apart from developing political nodes in the Iraqi governing council, Iran is now keen to strengthen its economic bonds with post-war Iraq. Exchange of businessmen has begun in right earnest and there are plans to open a joint Iran-Iraq chamber of commerce soon.

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