What’s behind Iran and Iraq’s ‘boosted’ military cooperation?

Iran is not only geopolitically considered to be a dominant foreign force in Iraq, but it is also an influential force, economically and socially

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Based on a recent report by Reuters news agency, Tehran has signed a $195 million arms deal with the central Iraqi government. Accordingly, Iranian and Iraqi defense officials have signed eight agreements through which Iran will sell Baghdad arms, military communications equipment, ammunition for tanks artillery, mortars, and ammunition for U.S.-made M-12 assault rifles, among other weaponry.

This deal came after the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to have failed in his attempts to procure additional arms from the United States for fighting, what he calls extremist Sunnis in the western territories of Iraq.


Firstly, this arms deal has raised significant concerns, not only for the United States but also for other regional countries. Jen Psaki, U.S. State Department spokeswoman, pointed out in a news briefing, “Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR [United Nations Security Council resolution] 1747. We are seeking clarification on the matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran.”

The significance of this arms deal is that this is considered to be the first official arms deal between the Shi'ite Iranian government and Iraq's Shi'ite-led government under Maliki. In addition, this signifies the increasing military, geopolitical, strategic and economic relationship between Iran and Iraq since American troops withdrew from Iraq in Dec. 2011. Moreover, this arms deal is in violation of the United Nations embargo on weapons sales by Iran.

Iran: the most influential foreign force

After the withdrawal of US troop from Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran was viewed as the most influential foreign force in Iraq politically, economically, and militarily. Based on recent developments, Iran’s socio-political and socio-economic leverage and influence in post-Baathist Iraq appears to be at its peak.

Iran is not only geopolitically considered to be a dominant foreign force in Iraq, but it is also an influential force, economically and socially

Majid Rafizadeh

Iran’s influence in Iraq and its political leverage over Baghdad includes, but is not limited to, Tehran’s close security, political, military, and intelligence relationship with other powerful and influential Shiite groups, including the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) along with the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr’s group. In addition, most of Prime Minister Maliki’s political aides are closely tied with the Iranian government.

After the uprising in Syria, Iran’s machinations in Baghdad have also increased. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has been utilizing Iraqi territories as a gateway to transfer arms and ammunition to Damascus. Reportedly, groups and individuals such as the ISCI’s leaders and the current Iraqi Minister of Transportation Hadi al-Amiri have been significant actors in assisting the arms shipments to Syria.

On the other hand, there are two critical reasons that both the Iraqi and Iranian governments are attempting to keep their military, security and intelligence cooperation confidential.

Iranian leaders aim to project an image that they are not interfering in the domestic affairs of other Arab countries. This policy works to ease the concerns of other regional powers, as well as to remove any obstacles that may risk the sanctions reliefs over Tehran.

From the perspective of the Iraqi government, it is crucial not to raise American concerns about Iraq-Iran arms ties in order to allow the Maliki government to obtain more advanced military capabilities, such as such surveillance systems and drones to enhance his government’s intelligence, tactical, and military capabilities against the opposition and insurgents.

Iraqi insurgents oppose Iran’s occupation

The less recognized fact is that one of the crucial reasons behind the fighting against the Shiite-led government of Maliki is that they view the Mailiki government (as well as his Dawa Party) as political puppets of Tehran. In other words, these oppositional groups, such as the Military Council of the Anbar Tribes have made clear their opposition to the increasing influence of Iran in Iraq’s domestic and foreign politics, calling it “Iran’s occupation” of Iraq.

Iran is not only geopolitically considered to be a dominant foreign force in Iraq, but it is also an influential force, economically and socially.

The Trade Promotion Organization of Iran (TPOI) pointed out that 72% of Iran’s exports in 2013 went to Iraq. The report also revealed Iraq's imported goods from Tehran have increased by approximately 15% last year. Considering non-oil goods, Iraq is now Iran’s second largest trade partner—only after China. Iraqi leaders have also recently announced that they are closely cooperating with the Iranian government to boost Iraq’s oil production and exports to 9 million bpd by 2020.

Socially and religiously speaking, it is worth noting that many religious scholars that Tehran sends to Karbala and Najaf have significant influence in the voting of the public in Iraq. Several crucial religious and political leaders in Iraq were previously trained in the Islamic Republic as well.

Although the Iranian government attempts to show that its foreign policies and arms deals with the Iraqi central and Shiite-led government of Maliki is not sectarian, the close examinations of Tehran’s policies indicate the Iran’s agenda is indeed sectarian. In addition, the Islamic Republic is more likely to retain its position as the most influential foreign force in Iraq militarily, intelligence, economically, and politically as long as Baghdad is governed by a Shiite government and as long as Iraq is unstable, divided, and inflicted with domestic conflict.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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