Tracker

Iraq-Iran Foreign Relations

Flag of Iraq (Available at Wikimedia Commons)

The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 sparked a new era in Iran-Iraq relations. Ties between the two states had been severely damaged by the Iran-Iraq War from 1980-1988, but since 2003, Iran has seized on the fractured political and vulnerable security situation in Iraq and has worked vigorously to extend its economic and political reach using both diplomatic and military means. U.S. officials have on several occasions presented evidence that Iran has provided, and continues to provide, arms, munitions, training, and direction to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. In 2007, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen revealed that Iran’s Qods Force, an elite unit within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that reports directly to Iran’s leader Ali Khamenei, had trained Iraqi insurgents. U.S. General David Petraeus testified to Congress in 2010 that Qods Force personnel had provided training, funding, and material to Shi’ite militia groups. In the years following the “surge” that reduced violence in Iraq and stabilized the country, Iran’s Qods Force has regenerated its terrorist networks inside Iraq.  

Iraq and Iran have developed extensive economic ties since 2003. In 2010, Iranian officials reported that trade between the two states had increased tenfold since 2003 and was expected to surpass $8 billion by the end of the year. Iran has also headed numerous reconstruction projects in Iraq. Iran’s involvement with such projects had been so extensive that in 2009, the head of U.S. troops in southern Iraq Major General Michael Oates asserted that the influx of Iranian goods and labor was undermining Iraq’s economic recovery effort. Economic cooperation between Iran and Iraq continues to increase, and in 2011, Iraq, Iran and Syria signed a $10 billion natural gas deal in which the three states agreed to construct a pipeline originating in southern Iran and extending to Syria; Iranian officials indicated that the pipeline would eventually extend to the Mediterranean through Lebanon.

Iraqi officials have expressed support for Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program but have stated their opposition to Iran developing nuclear weapons. Iraq has also called on Iran to comply with its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

 

Nuclear:

April 17, 2010: During a nuclear disarmament conference hosted by Iran, the foreign ministers of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon expressed their support for Iran’s nuclear program. Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said that his country backs Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program.[1]

January 11, 2010: The Iraqi government approached the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with concerns over Iranian plans to construct a nuclear reactor near the Iran-Iraq border. In a statement, Baghdad announced that it had requested additional information from the IAEA regarding the facility’s construction, adding that “Iraq will take the necessary diplomatic measures, in cooperation with the IAEA, to suppress the dangers and complications arising from the construction of nuclear installations near the border.”[2]

September 25, 2008: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari joined the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan, and the United States in a joint statement that calls for Iran’s assurance that it does not seek nuclear weapons and reiterates the Islamic Republic’s obligation under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.[3]

March 26, 2006: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari stated that his country does “respect and confirm the right of the Republic of Iran and the right of any other state to have scientific and technological abilities to research in the field of nuclear energy for peaceful uses,” though it does not approve of Iran developing nuclear weapons.[4]

 

Economic:

July 25, 2011: Iran, Iraq and Syria signed a $10 billion natural gas agreement. According to the agreement, the three countries will construct a pipeline running from Iran’s natural gas fields to Iraq and Syria. The pipeline will eventually be extended to the Mediterranean via Lebanon. Iraq would initially receive 20 million cubic meters per day, and Syria 20 to 25 million cubic meters per day.[5]

May 23, 2011: Iran signed a provisional agreement with Iraq to import its natural gas to Iraqi power plants. Iraq’s Electricity Ministry spokesman Mussab al Mudaris stated that the deal would allow Iraq to purchase 25 million cubic meters of gas per day to power its plants in the northeastern suburbs of Baghdad.[6]

May 11, 2011: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki announced that the two neighbors intend to form a special economic committee designed to bolster bilateral relations.[7]

December 3, 2010: Iraqi Finance Ministry official Fadil Nabi said in response to reports indicating that Iran had set up banks in his country that “Iraq is committed to following legitimate international resolutions and therefore cannot allow the opening of banks whose operations have been banned, and the banks that are currently present in Iraq are domestic banks that are owned by individuals not subject to sanctions.”[8] An October 2010 report note that Tehran has established at least two banks in Iraq, including one associated with Bank Melli, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury.[9]

August 10, 2010: Iran’s new ambassador to Iraq Hassan Danaeifar, an IRGC Qods Force officer, said sanctions will not limit economic relations between Iran and Iraq. Danafar said that existing annual trade between the countries stood at $7 billion per year.[10]

July 28, 2010: Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Owji announced that Iran and Iraq “have formed a joint working group” that will examine methods of delivery of natural gas to Iraq. Owji, who is also the managing director of the National Iranian Gas Company, added, "we envisage that Iran would be able to supply Iraq with its required gas in the next two years.”[11]

July 26, 2010: The Iranian First Vice President’s Deputy Ali Aqa-Mohammadi met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to discuss the current pace of development of economic ties between the two countries. The two sides both noted the importance of removing barriers to trade.[12]

July 16, 2010: Iraq Oil Report—a publication monitoring Iraqi business and political developments—suggested that U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s refined petroleum sector could negatively affect Iraq. According to the report, the new sanctions regime, “prohibits any foreign entity from investing more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector, and bans any sales of gasoline or refinery-related services or equipment to Iran at a value of $1 million per shipment or more than $5 million over a 12-month period.”[13] According to Kenneth Katzman, a specialist for the U.S. Congressional Research Service, “pipelines to or from Iran, gasoline sales to Iran, et cetera, are all now sanctionable.”[14]

July 13, 2010: Iranian Deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs Hossein Noqreh-Kar Shirazi claimed that his country was currently investigating the feasibility of an Iran-Iraq-Syria-Mediterranean Sea pipeline.[15]

June 14, 2010: Iran’s Oghab Afshan Industrial and Manufacturing Company (OAIMC) agreed to produce 300 buses for export to Iraq.[16]

May 12, 2010: Iran’s ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazzemi Qomi, in a visit to Iran’s fifth exhibition in the Iraqi city of Erbil, stated his country “is ready to cooperate in the reconstruction of Iraq, [e]specially the Kurdistan region, and holding different exhibitions to develop economic and trade relations and identifying grounds for investment are means to this aim."[17]

April 25, 2010: The trade attaché at the Iranian embassy, Ali Heidari, asserted that trade volume between Iran in Iraq was “10 times more than it was in 2003.”[18] The report also claimed that Iran expects its exports to Iraq to surpass $8 billion in 2010. Several projects were mentioned, including the $230 million contract with the Iranian company ISP to build schools in Iraq and the $150 million power plant constructed by Iranian company Saner in Shi’ite Sadr City.[19]

April 19, 2010: Ali Khorshid, member of the Iraqi Kurdistan’s Legislative Council, announced that trade between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan will increase to $4 billion in 2010. He urged closer economic cooperation in the Kurdistan region.[20]

April 14, 2010: An investment commission in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, located only 10 miles from the Iranian border, approved the creation of a free trade zone with Iran. According to the proposal, approved by the Basra Investment Commission, a private firm is slated to invest more than $16 million over the next 25 years in the zone.[21]

March 8, 2010: An Iranian parliament representative from Iran’s Khuzestan province announced that Iran and Iraq were in preliminary negotiations to set up a free trade zone. According to MP Mostafa Matourzadeh, “The existence of a joint free trade zone between Iran and Iraq will facilitate transit of goods.”[22] He also suggested that Iran and Iraq were in talks to form a joint industrial zone along the countries shared border.[23]

January 25, 2010: Iran and Iraq finalized a deal in which Iran agreed to export approximately 19,000 barrels of diesel oil per day to Iraq. Observers speculated that the deal could be worth between $500 and $600 million.[24]

September 13, 2009: Iran and Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to jointly invest in their commonly-held oil fields. According to Iraqi oil ministry official Sabah al-Saadi, “direct investment, giving each state its share to invest, or giving the field to a neutral company to invest in, are the three agreed ways for financing the joint fields' development plans.”[25] Iraqi officials predicted they would import upwards of $4 billion of oil from Iran in 2009.[26]

July 28, 2009: Officials from the Iranian and Iraqi Chambers of Commerce signed a memorandum of understanding aiming to remove governmental barriers to trade between the two countries.[27]

March 18, 2009: The head of U.S. troops in southern Iraq, Army Major General Michal Oates, said that the influx of Iranian goods and labor were threatening economic recovery in Iraq. Underscoring U.S. concern, General Oates added, “We’ve got to find a way to turn that around.”[28]

February 20, 2009: Iran won a $1.5 billion contract to aid in the reconstruction of the city of Basra. An unnamed Iranian firm agreed to build some 5,000 houses and three hotels.[29]

 

Diplomatic:

August 3, 2011: Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Danaei-Far met with Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi to discuss recent clashes between Iranian military forces and Kurdish rebels.[30]

July 27, 2011: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari insisted that the Iranian government cease its cross-border shelling of Iraq-Kurdistan. Zebari added that the shelling had been intermittently occurring for five years, but the duration of the most recent shelling “has been longer than previous instances.” Zebari further warned Iran of straining ties with his country, stating that the attacks were “not constructive for Iraq-Iranian relations.”[31]

July 27, 2011: A military official with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Hamzeh Seyyed al-Shohada base said that its operations against PJAK(Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan) militants along the Iran-Iraq border would continue until Iraq’s central government deployed its military into Iraqi-Kurdistan.[32]

July 22, 2011: Governor of Iraqi-Kurdistan’s Chooman region Abdolvahed Gavani pleaded with the Iranian government to halt its cross-border shelling. According to Gavani, “Islamic Republic artillery attacks have continued and nearly 12 shells have hit villages in this region and caused great material losses for the people who live there.”[33]

July 19, 2011: Iraqi Kurdistan’s regional government spokesman Qawa Mahmud responded to a recent incursion inside Iraqi territory by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC): “We demand Iran respect the sovereignty of the Kurdistan region as part of the sovereignty of Iraq…. There was Iranian infiltration along the Iraqi border. If there is any border problem, the best way to resolve it is through negotiations and peace, not by bombing civilians.”[34]

July 12, 2011: An unnamed “high-ranking” Iranian military official stated his country’s intentions to pursue PJAK members within Iraqi territory: “We will not allow terrorists, who are supported by the United States and the Zionist regime, to be stationed in Iraq and carry out operations against the Iranian nation. We will take action against them.”[35]

June 13, 2011: Deputy head of the Iranian Consulate in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, Morteza Ebadi, announced Iraqi Kurdistan’s desire to expand ties with the Islamic Republic. “Iraq's Kurdistan region and Iran's western provinces share various historical, cultural and traditional commonalities, which should be utilized to further expand the two sides' relations in different fields,” Ebady said.[36]

May 24, 2011: U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the Iraqi government to extend the presence of American forces in Iraq beyond their December 2011 departure date. Secretary Gates suggested that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq would reassure Persian Gulf states concerned with Iranian interference in the region.[37]

April 30, 2011: Iran’s ambassador to Iraq Hassan Danaeifar denied allegations that the Islamic Republic was interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. Danaeifar accused the U.S. of attempting to disrupt Iran-Iraq relations.[38]

April 24, 2011: Iranian Justice Minister Morteza Bakhtiari and his Iraq counterpart, Hassan al-Shammari, signed agreements to extradite criminals. The agreement allows members of the Mujahiden-e Khalq Organization (MKO) to be extradited to Iran to face charges.[39]

April 11, 2011: The Iraqi government set a deadline for residents of Camp Ashraf to leave Iraq. Camp Ashraf was occupied by members of the Iranian dissident group, Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al Dabbagh said “this organization must be removed from Iraqi territory by all means, including political and diplomatic, with the cooperation of the U.N. and international organizations.[40]

January 5, 2011: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari in Baghdad. The two discussed regional issues and bilateral relations.[41]

July 25, 2010: Fatemeh Alia, a senior member of the Iranian parliament, expressed support for the creation of a counterterrorism treaty among several Middle Eastern and Central Asian states. According to Alia, an agreement between Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey would help ensure “that state-sponsored-terrorism will be uprooted through cooperation among the intelligence and security forces of these countries."[42]

July 23, 2010: In contrast to previous statements made by Iranian officials, Iran’s Border Guard Commander Brigadier General Hossein Zolfaqari stated that, because the “PJAK terrorist group has managed to mobilize some of its forces and equipments to areas within Iraqi Kurdistan… we have (security) issues on our border with the Iraqi Kurdistan region.” Zolfaqari urged Iraq to adopt measures to deal with the group, saying that “the Iraqis should resolve the problems that are created for us on the Iraqi side of the border."[43]

June 10, 2010: Iranian officials denied accusations that Iranian military forces crossed into Iraqi territory in pursuit of Kurdish militants. Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazem Qomi stated that “such claims are meant to undermine the amicable relations between Tehran and Baghdad and to cover up those Arab states' interference in Iraq's internal affairs.” Kazemi Qomi went on to assert that groups such as the militant “Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan” (PJAK) have contributed to tensions on the Iran-Iraq border.[44]

May 23, 2010: Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani stated that “the issue of [war] reparations is not an issue that can be forgotten, and we are following up on it.” Other members of parliament concurred, noting that Iraq is obligated to pay reparations according to Article 6 of United Nations Resolution 598.[45]

March 26, 2010: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran. Ahmadinejad had previously invited Talabani to attend Iran’s Noruz (Persian New Year) celebration.[46]

March 24, 2010: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi to discuss bilateral relations and post-election Iraqi politics. During this meeting Kazemi Qomi also delivered President Ahmadinejad’s official invitation to Iran’s Noruz festivities.[47]

February 21, 2010: An Iran-Iraq joint committee met in the southern Iranian city of Qasr-e Shirin to launch a workshop group tasked with delineating the border between the two countries. Iran and Iraq dispute the territorial boundaries of the Fakkah oil field in Iraq.[48]

January 9, 2010: Iranian ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi, referring to the disputed Fakka oil well in Iraq, asserted that Iran-Iraq borders are based on previous accords between the two countries.[49]

December 19, 2009: Iran and Iraq agreed to resolve their dispute over the Fakka oil field diplomatically. Ali al-Dabbagh, Iraqi government spokesman, said “We call for calm and for a peaceful solution to this matter, far from any military escalation.”[50]

March 9, 2010: Iran’s Foreign Ministry issued an official statement congratulating Iraq on successful parliamentary elections, saying in a statement that “the successful and sensational parliamentary election of Iraq, which was held with great presence of all Iraq's political and social groups and strata, indicated once more that against the enemy's conspiracy, this is the will of nations which determine their destiny.”[51]

July 6, 2009: Iraqi National Security Advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i traveled to Tehran. Rubay’i claimed he was visiting Iran to “strengthen the brotherly relations between the two countries, institutionalize the security agreements with Iran and make some arrangements to carry out the two sides' policies in the region and in international organizations.”[52]

June 30, 2009: Iraqi Government Spokesman Ali Dabbagh dismissed accusations that Iran has played a role in the political and military instability in Iraq, asserting that "[r]elations between Iran and Iraq are friendly and there is no acute or fundamental problem between the two countries."

March 24, 2009: Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani traveled to Iraq to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani and other Shi’ite clerics, and to visit religious sites in Najaf.[53]

January 29, 2007: Iran’s ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi Qomi announced the Islamic Republic’s intent to expand its economic and military ties with its Iraq. Kazemi Qomi said that Iran would train Iraqi security forces and assist in reconstructing the country, adding “We have experience of reconstruction after war…. We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis.” [54]

 

Military:

July 25, 2011: U.S. military spokesman in Iraq Major General Jeffrey Buchanan asserted that Iran had increased its flow of arms to Shi’ite proxy militias in Iraq. General Buchanan displayed weapons recovered by U.S. forces that had been produced in Iran and added “It’s new stuff, and a lot of it coming across.”[55]

July 25, 2011: Shelling of the Iraqi town of Sidkan by Iranian forces killed two Iraqi civilians. The incident was part of a string of attacks by Iran’s military on Kurdish rebels on the Iran-Iraq border.[56]

July 22, 2011: A senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer and five Iranian army soldiers were killed during fighting with PJAK rebels on the Iran-Iraq border.[57]

July 19, 2011: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) crossed into Iraqi territory in assaults on Kurdish villages.[58]

July 17, 2011: One member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and at least two PJAK militants were killed during clashes on the Iran-Iraq border. According to a statement by PJAK spokesman Sherzad Kamankar, at the time of the report “heavy battles have been ongoing between PJAK and the Iranian army, resulting in injuries among elements of our group.”[59]

July 14, 2011: Iran deployed 5,000 soldiers along its northwest border with Iraqi Kurdistan. According to Iran’s state-media, the deployed forces were “stabilizing the border area and fighting counterrevolutionary groups.”[60]

July 2, 2011: Army Major General James Buchanan, U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said that as the withdrawal date for U.S. forces in Iraq draws nearer, “we are likely to see these Iranian-backed groups continue to maintain high attack levels.”[61]

June 30, 2011: On his last day in office, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that Iran is still actively interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. Secretary Gates said that Iran is “facilitating weapons, they’re facilitating training, there’s new technology that they’re providing…. They’re stepping this up, and it’s a concern.”[62]

May 26, 2011: A report asserted that southern Iraq had become a key entry point for Iranian weapons, including shaped charges and rocket-propelled grenades, destined for Iraq’s Shi’ite militia groups.[63]

April 30, 2011: U.S. Army spokesman in Iraq Brigadier General Jeffrey Buchanan revealed that the Qods Force – an elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) tasked with exporting revolution abroad – was providing assistance to militia groups in Iraq. According to General Buchanan, “Hezbollah Brigades receive support from Quds Forces. These brigades are still active in Iraq. Some trade businesses and investment projects including hotels and restaurants in Karbala and Najaf are funding Iranian Quds Forces.”[64]

December 7, 2010: Army Lieutenant General Michael Oates of the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) revealed in a press conference that the “Qods Force out of Iran frequently provided very sophisticated telemetry and other remote control capability in Baghdad and Southern Iraq in particular.”[65]

June 8, 2010: Following an assault on Kurdish militant groups in Iraq, Iranian military forces constructed a makeshift fort within Iraqi borders.[66]

June 1, 2010: Iranian military forces entered Iraqi Kurdistan in pursuit of Kurdish militants from the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK). According to reports, the Iranian military began shelling the border region in late May, resulting in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.[67]

March 17, 2010: Commander of U.S. Central Command Army General David Petraeus testified to U.S. congress members that Iran’s Qods Force, an elite unit within the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), “maintains its lethal support to Shia Iraqi militia groups, providing them with weapons, funding and training.”[68]

January 22, 2010: General David H. Petraeus said that in April 2008, “…a message was conveyed to me by a very senior Iraqi leader from the head of the Qods Force, Kassim Suleimani, whose message went as follows. He said, ‘General Petraeus, you should know that I, Kassim Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan.’ And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Qods Force member. The individual who's going to replace him is a Qods Force member.”[69]

December 17, 2009: Iranian forces crossed into Iraqi territory and occupied the disputed Fakka oil field in Maysan province for three days. Iraq’s deputy foreign affairs minister claimed that, though Iran had begun its withdrawal, some of its forces remained and “they [were] not completely out of Iraqi territory.”[70] In June 2009 Iraq had attempted to auction off drilling rights to the Fakka field but was unsuccessful.[71]

May 7, 2009: Spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga Jabbar Yawer accused Iran of shelling Iraqi territory. He added that no one had been killed but that villagers living in the shelled area had fled to makeshift camps.[72]

April 25, 2008: Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is providing weapons and training to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. An anonymous U.S. official said that they had evidence that Iran’s Qods Force had trained Iraqi insurgents.[73]

June 11, 2007: Officials in the U.K reiterated claims that Iran was “backing, financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq.”[74]

[Click here for more information on Iran’s soft power strategy in Iraq]


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