Designation of Haider al-Abadi as Iraqi prime minister following the resignation of Nouri al-Maliki from premiership in August drew a lot of attention in the region. Iran and Iraq share a long border. Naturally, as neighbors the repercussions of political developments in one country can be felt in the other. That is particularly true about a major shift as such. A 207th issue of Panjereh (Window) weekly, which focuses on political, cultural, economic and social news, featured an interview with foreign policy expert Dr. Hassan Hanizadeh and Dr. Hossein Sheikholeslam, a political expert and a foreign policy advisor to the parliament speaker. The following is a translation of the answers they provided in response to the weekly’s questions:
What is going on in Iraq at the moment indicates that the country is still in a state of disarray. Given the ambiguous handover of power from Nouri al-Maliki to Haider al-Abadi, how would you analyze the current developments in Iraq?
I praise Mr. Maliki for his far-sightedness and selflessness. In spite of securing more votes than the previous election, he decided to waive his right just because of Iraq’s conditions and restore national cohesion between Shiites, Sunnis and ethnic groups. In fact, he put Iraqi unity ahead of his personal interests.
Sheikholeslam: At a time when Iraq is under attack by terrorist insurgents of the Islamic State (IS), I praise Mr. Maliki for his far-sightedness and selflessness. In spite of securing more votes than the previous election, he decided to waive his right just because of Iraq’s conditions and restore national cohesion between Shiites, Sunnis and ethnic groups. In fact, he put Iraqi unity ahead of his personal interests. I hope that Mr. Abadi will build on support and cooperation offered by Maliki and other ethnic groups as well as Shiites to forge a government that can restore security.
Hanizadeh: The appointment of Haider al-Abadi came at a time when Iraq faced a political void after the legal deadline of 15 days to name a prime minster by major parliamentary caucuses expired, so Iraqi President Fouad Massoum exercised his right to pick Mr. Abadi as prime minister, a figure who is well respected by tribes and parties across the political spectrum. Shiites, Sunnis, and Iraqi Kurds view him as an influential political figure. Also, his relationship with religious leaders is fairly good. So it seems that when his cabinet make-up is determined and the new government takes charge, it will be able to address the present challenges in Iraq and turn things around in favor of the Iraqi nation.
What are the characteristics of Mr. Abadi that have made many Iraqi major players welcome his nomination? How will his appointment help Iraq as far as the political process is concerned?
That Western countries endorse Mr. Abadi is because of his 35-year political activity in Europe, especially in Britain, which has made him famous in the West.
Hanizadeh: His appointment can usher in pleasant interaction among all parties across the political spectrum, lift Iraq out of its security and political woes and direct it toward the formation of an inclusive government. His designation is the result of a consensus over a common need among all political parties. That Western countries endorse him is because of his 35-year political activity in Europe, especially in Britain, which has made him famous in the West.
Another thing is his respect for all political parties and clerics. With regard to such matters, it seems the prime minister-designate will pull off a lot of security and political accomplishments through the formation of a national unity government in the months to come. It’s worth noting that the support from the United Nations, the US, and Europe for Abadi can be rather helpful from a regional and international perspective. Of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran also expressed pleasure over Mr. Abadi’s appointment.
Certainly, a change of prime minister in Iraq will have a direct impact on Tehran-Baghdad interactions. What are your thoughts on it?
Sheikholeslam: Iran attaches immense significance to Iraq. To fathom the importance, we can point out the suffering Iran experienced under Saddam, or the 8-year war imposed on Iran by Iraq (1980-1988) which carried a heavy price tag for Iran. The significance underlines the fact that in interaction with Iraq, Iran should not let catastrophes like war repeat themselves. Iraq is our ally in the region, its cooperation with Iran to establish stability and peace along its border can help restore peace to the whole region.
For the time being, IS presence on Iraqi soil is the second biggest threat after the Zionist regime. In fact, IS follows the same approach, though in the name of Islam, yet they both have the same objectives: dividing Muslims, and fanning the flames of Islamophobia in the region.
For the time being, IS presence on Iraqi soil is the second biggest threat after the Zionist regime. In fact, IS follows the same approach, though in the name of Islam, yet they both have the same objectives: dividing Muslims, and fanning the flames of Islamophobia in the region. These are the goals that the Zionists, Americans and arrogant powers pursue. I do not think the transition in Iraq will have much impact on relations between the two nations although we need to wait and see. We need to have close cooperation with Iraq and give a hand to the ruling current.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his Eid al-Fitr address stated that Iran has disagreement over some matters with other Islamic nations. However, Iran stands ready to set aside such differences in order to address the issue of Palestine. One of the questions over which there is disagreement is Iraq. We hope that both sides appreciate this move toward unity and respond positively.
Hanizadeh: Mr. Abadi lived in the West and Britain for 35 years and his approaches are not confined to his country and nation. He’s tapping into his experience on the political front to maintain and even beef up his ties with Iran and other Arab countries in the region.
At the moment, the incoming prime minister is faced with a series of grave domestic challenges on security, political and economic fronts. He will try to give priority to the consolidation of security and a crackdown on IS fighters. In light of the danger IS poses to the Iraqis, Abadi will use his cachet in the region and the world to quell the marauding group.
Aside from that, Iraq will come across some serious challenges such as the Kurdistan Region which Abadi should overcome with tact and maturity. Experience acquired over the last 11 years in Iraq suggests that some countries, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are not willing to see stability in the region. Since Iran shares a long border with Iraq, it always keeps its finger on the pulse of the latest developments in Iraq. Iraq should at all times heed its consultations with Iran over security, military and security matters.
The enormous challenge facing Iraq is IS. Do you think we will see any change in the fight against the terrorist group during Abadi’s premiership?
Sheikholeslam: On no account should concessions be made to those behind violence and murder in Iraq. IS militants should lay down arms and leave the Iraqi soil. I think if Iraqi volunteers called by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani [to combat the insurgents] are organized by the government and its allies, Iraq will be able to deliver a heavy blow to the terrorist group. Such counterattack is only attainable through the unity of all Iraqi forces.
Hanizadeh: If Haider al-Abadi preferred his ethnic tendencies to religious ones, he would not notch up any success. Abadi should put Iran’s experience to good use and should not come under pressure by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He should crush IS with international assistance and ensure long-lasting security in the region. Also, he needs to clarify relations between the Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government, and the Iraqi Kurdistan should abide by the law. In case Kurdistan adopts a go-it-alone approach to establishment of ties with the West and the US, Iraq will definitely move toward breakup.
What are other political obstacles standing in the way of Iraq?
Hanizadeh: Iraq’s Constitution has some flaws. It’s necessary to fix them, so the Constitution should be reviewed now. Under Iraq’s law, the winning party in the parliamentary vote has no more than 15 days to name a prime minister. That was what annoyed Nouri al-Maliki and triggered a reaction from him.
instability in Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Iraq, extensive presence of IS in the north, and the remnants of Baathist generals in the structure of the Iraqi armed forces are hurdles that the Mr. Abadi needs to clear.
Today Iraq is mired in multiple security and political problems. Among other things, instability in Iraqi Kurdistan and northern Iraq, extensive presence of IS in the north, and the remnants of Baathist generals in the structure of the Iraqi armed forces are hurdles that the prime minister-designate needs to clear.
Another thing is that top religious leaders in Iraq have always tried to foster an interactive atmosphere on the political front, regardless of their political leanings. For instance, the recent warning by Ayatollah Sistani about putting a halt to political disputes was to that end. These leaders have always taken the expediency and interests of all different ethnic groups into consideration, that’s why the incoming premier should heed the advice of grand religious leaders.