On July 23rd Iran and Iraq signed a deal to work together against terrorism in their region and increase military cooperation with each other. What will follow will drastically change future relations between the neighbors.
It has been 29 years since the end of the notorious Iran-Iraq war. What had led to the conflict and what followed until the deposition of Saddam Hussein was a history of tense and hostile relations between the two countries softened much by the ousting of the Iraqi dictator.
The two countries share a long history together—going back to Mesopotamia and Persia, and as recent years have shown their relationship continues to define their immediate geopolitical position. Iran has a stake in Iraq’s future economically and politically.
Trade between the two reached $12 billion in 2015, and many in Iran see their neighbor as a great opportunity for contracting and infrastructure projects. Politically, Iran has a reason to deter influence from its regional rival Saudi Arabia, who also may seek deeper relations with the country. Indeed, after the political vacuum left by the death of Saddam, and the recent destruction brought upon by ISIS, both Iran, and Saudi Arabia have found opportunity in an unstable Iraq. As for Iraq itself, simply having a stable economic partner and a source of military defense against armed agitators may be enough for the shaken up state.
The recent Iranian-Iraqi relationship
Post-2003 Iraq saw relations normalize with its neighbor and besides a border dispute that saw Iran seize an Iraqi oil field, interactions between the two countries have been positive. Economic agreements and visits between statesman have flourished, no doubt influenced by a majority Shia population in both countries and the fact that both recent Iraqi Prime Ministers have been Shiites themselves.
In fact, with Iraq being the home of two of Shia Islam’s most holy places, its tourist economy has benefited much from its Iranian patrons. Current crises have also helped to solidify their friendly relationship, with both parties being on the same side of the ISIS situation is a huge cause of cooperation between the two.
July 23rd cemented the positive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The two countries signed an agreement in an effort to combat extremism in both countries, relying on increased military cooperation as a means to fight terrorism.
According to Iran’s official news agency IRNA, the accord would extend “cooperation and exchange experiences in fighting terrorism and extremism, border security, and educational, logistical, technical and military support”.
The accord marks a decidedly growing relationship between Iran and Iraq. With Iraq entrenched in extremist aggression and in need of a capable military ally, and Iran seeking greater influence in the country and the region as a whole, the July 23rd agreement seems to satisfy both parties.
The reality is, however, that Iran will be the dominating power in the arrangement, as it is the one with the resources needed to make such an agreement sustainable. It’s militaristic capability, as well as its regional dominance, will give the country leverage in the arrangement, and indeed Iraq will be dependent on its neighbor for most of the accords means of operation.
As for the rest of the world, the accord may be worrying. In America for instance, concern has been given for Iran’s increasing influence in the country, with the US military accusing the regional power of funding and training militias in Iraq. Iran has denied the accusations, but that does not negate the fact that the United States will be keeping a close eye on arrangements the country imposes on its neighbor. Nevertheless, what can be taken away from this recent accord is that Iran has denied the accusations, but that does not negate the fact that the United States will be keeping a close eye on arrangements the country imposes on its neighbor.
Nevertheless, what can be taken away from this recent accord is that Iran will without a doubt be influential in a post-ISIS Iraq. It’s theocratic influence on the Shia majority, as well as its geopolitical leverage that has been exemplified by the agreement, makes Iran a likely actor in Iraq’s future. Whether the accord will be a positive change in Iraq is yet to be seen. But it’s promising outcome to Tehran is already obvious.