Al-Monitor: Ahmadinejad’s first visit to Iraq in 2008 was of significant importance for Iranian and Iraqi parties, as well as for the US, which was holding talks with Iran at the time about Iraq and other issues.
By: Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor Iraq
On July 19, outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad paid his last official presidential visit to Iraq, where he was received by Iraqi Vice President Khodair al-Khozaei.
Ahmadinejad’s first visit to Iraq in 2008 was of significant importance for Iranian and Iraqi parties, as well as for the US, which was holding talks with Iran at the time about Iraq and other issues. Back then, he was received by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani accompanied by then-Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih and a number of other senior Iraqi officials.
Ali al-Moussawi, adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, described Ahmadinejad’s visit as “a symbolic visit on the occasion of the end of his term, and it will be devoted to the visit of holy sites.” He added, “We do not expect that there will be any formal agreements.”
Moussawi also announced a planned visit by Iran’s incoming President Hassan Rouhani to Iraq, and expressed hope that a new chapter will start with Iran on the basis of common interests and mutual respect.
At the diplomatic level, this rhetoric conveys dissatisfaction toward Iran’s policies on Iraq under Ahmadinejad. What’s more, the anti-Iraqi government forces have expressed that Ahmadinejad is not welcome in Iraq. It is worth mentioning that the visit was scheduled to take place a year ago but was postponed several times due to the illness of President Talabani, according to a statement by Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Araghchi.
Key talks were held during this visit between the two parties on Syrian affairs, according to Iran’s al-Alam news channel. This was confirmed by several political figures from the major blocs in the Iraqi parliament, including the Kurdistan Alliance and the Iraqiya List.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced on July 13, a few days before Ahmadinejad’s visit, that the Iraqi side cannot stop the transfer of Iranian weapons to Syria, if this transfer is even happening. This statement prompted widespread reactions that forced the Iraqi parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee to hold a special meeting to discuss the matter.
Ahmedinejad’s visit coincided with the anniversary of the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq following eight years of war in 1988. This resulted in critical reactions on the part of the Arab and Iranian media regarding the failure to resolve the outstanding issues between the parties. Some Iranian news sites described the visit as provocative at a time during which Iran is still demanding war reparations from Iraq. In fact, several items of the ceasefire agreement between Iraq and Iran have yet to be implemented. Chief among these is border delimitation and compensation for losses sustained in the war. This could possibly lead to new disputes between the two countries in the future.
The fact that Najaf religious authorities refrained from meeting with Ahmadinejad clearly indicates criticism of Iran’s policies during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. The Iranian president settled for a short visit to the holy shrines in Karbala and Najaf without meeting any prominent religious figure in the two cities. Most of the religious authorities in the Iranian city of Qom had refrained from meeting Ahmadinejad during his earlier visits to the city. Criticism of the outgoing Shiite Iranian president focuses on his imprudent policy and misuse of religion for political or factional interests.
Ali Mamouri is a researcher and writer who specializes in religion. He is a former teacher in Iranian universities and seminaries in Iran and Iraq. He has published several articles related to religious affairs in the two countries and societal transformations and sectarianism in the Middle East.