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Iraq: Al-Maliki Seeks To Strengthen Ties With Iran

August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will go to Iran today where he will hold talks on August 8 with Iranian officials on economic and political cooperation. The two countries have greatly expanded bilateral relations following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. RFE/RL Iraq analyst Kathleen Ridolfo discusses what al-Maliki hopes to achieve.

RFE/RL: What is the purpose of al-Maliki's visit to Iran?

Kathleen Ridolfo: This is al-Maliki's second visit to Iran since he took office and it comes within the context of bettering political relations and economic relations and -- of course more importantly -- securing relations between Iran and Iraq. Al-Maliki is, of course, a Shi'ite leader and the Shi'ites have very close ties to Iran and so there are a lot of questions in the minds of some observers wondering whether or not this is aimed at colluding or in some way strengthening those ties between the [Iraqi] Shi'ites and the Iranian regime or whether the talks are more general.

RFE/RL: Is this visit connected with the recent Iranian-U.S. talks on Iraq's security? The two sides have already had three sessions where they have discussed security issues, including the creation of a committee aimed at bringing security and stability to the country.

Ridolfo: It's very likely that the talks will come up, as you know some demands were asked of the United States and Iran by the Iraqi government [on August 6], so there was a list of 10 requests that they addressed in terms of security and border control so this will come up in the talks; in addition there will probably be some discussions...[about] internal matters among the Shi'ite parties in Iraq. A delegation from [former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim] al-Ja'fari's Al-Dawah Party already headed to Tehran earlier this week to have meetings with Iranian officials ahead of al-Maliki's visit; so the relationship between al-Maliki and some members of [Al-Dawah]...particularly Ibrahim al-Ja'fari...are quite tense at the moment and there is some question as to whether Iran will intervene in these affairs and try to weigh in on the situation emerging from within the Shi'a parties in Iraq.

RFE/RL: So is al-Maliki looking for Iran to mediate?

Ridolfo: I don't know actually that al-Maliki is looking for Iran to mediate. A delegation did go to Tehran, according to media reports, so someone from within or some elements from within the Al-Dawah party may be looking for Iran to mediate, but at this point it's really unclear who is behind that.

RFE/RL: What is al-Maliki hoping to gain from his talks with Iranian officials?

Ridolfo: Probably some more concrete assurances from the Iranian as far as what they will do toward the security [situation], although generally when we see these talks very little does emerge. In the past when there have been talks between the Iraqi government and the Iranians we see more concrete movement in terms of economic accords but in terms of political accords very little happens.

I want to add that it will be interesting to see what does emerge on the political front between al-Maliki's talks with the Iranians because Wednesday, August 8, is the 19th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement between Iran and Iraq coming out of the eight-year war between the two countries. So it will be quite interesting a) to see if al-Maliki makes a statement about that anniversary, and b) if the anniversary is noted in any other context such as agreements between the two countries in terms of strengthening their relations.

RFE/RL: How would you describe Iran/Iraq relations at this point?

Ridolfo: I would say that the Iraqi government has gone to great lengths to have good relations with Iran because Iran is its neighbor. In fact, [Iraqi] President [Jalal] Talabani has said on several occasions -- most recently over the weekend -- that Iraq has strong ties with Iran and Iraq appreciates the efforts of the Iranians toward promoting better security in Iraq.

That being said, of course Sunni Arabs in Iraq are distrustful of Iran and they are quite concerned with the Iranian involvement in Iraq, as are U.S. forces. If you recall, the second in command of U.S. forces in Baghdad said on [August 5,] that Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias were responsible for 73 percent of the attacks on U.S. forces in Baghdad...in July.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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