Commentary from the Gulf Research Center
By Abdulaziz Sager
Though neither Baghdad nor Tehran revealed the finer details of their leaders' discussions in Iran a fortnight ago, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari left very little room for speculation when he said: "During his recent visit to Tehran, Prime Minister (Jawad) Al-Maliki was accompanied by a delegation specialized in security affairs. They took files, information, and evidence, and made a clear request to end the Iranian interference in the Iraqi security affairs."
The interior ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries have held three meetings since the ouster of Saddam Hussein -- in Iran in December 2004, Turkey in August 2005, and Saudi Arabia in September 2006. The discussions at these meetings have focused on Iraq's political independence, territorial integrity and national solidarity. Other issues related to mutual cooperation on border security, smuggling of goods and weapons, combating narcotics and preventing capital flow for terrorist activities have also been deliberated upon. However, these meetings have made very little positive difference on the ground. The decisions reached at such meetings may be considered no more than a show of solidarity since they are neither legally binding nor accompanied by an enforcement mechanism.
Moreover, several of Iraq's neighbors have ideological differences with the United States, which is the principal security guarantor in Iraq and the region. This encourages them to precipitate any crisis that leaves the United States and its mission sullied. While Iran and Syria fit this bill closely, Turkey is driven more by self interest than ideology. Turkey's own Kurdish question and its link to Iraq have rendered Ankara diplomatically less proactive in its own neighborhood than in its efforts at gaining the European Union membership. However, the threat of Turkish forces crossing the Iraqi border in pursuit of Kurdistan Workers Party guerillas is real and could create chaos and further destabilize the region. Further, this situation could exacerbate if Kurdish moves toward independence inside Iraq intensify.
Iran's interventionist policy in Iraq has a long history. Tehran's objective to influence developments in Iraq is motivated by a number of strategic factors, as well as cultural and religious interests. The history of the two countries has been characterized by a permanent state of rivalry. Recent evidence points to Iran inciting Muqtada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, facilitating the movement of extremist groups such as Ansar Al-Islam, and supporting three dominant parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, which have links with Tehran -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Al-Dawa and Al-Dawa-Tanzim Al-Iraq. Thus, despite US forces occupying the country, Iran's interventionist policies have substantial influence over developments in present-day Iraq.
Though Iran has denied any negative influence in Iraq, it has been accused by a cross-section of countries of aiding the flow of people, money and weapons, as well as meddling in Iraq's political life.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States in September 2005, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said, "...they (Iranian officials) go into every government of Iraq, pay money, install their own people -- even establish police forces for them, (provide) arms and militias -- and reinforce their presence in these areas (southern Iraq).
Last month, US President George W. Bush stated: "The Iranian regime interferes in Iraq by sponsoring terrorists and insurgents, empowering unlawful militias, and supplying components for improvised explosive devices."
Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al-Dabbagh endorsed this view few weeks ago: "We want to pass a message to the Iranian leaders that Iraq needs good relations with neighboring countries, without interference in our internal affairs...We understand that the violence in Iraq is being fed and financed by others. Some of them are countries, some are groups... We'd like neighboring countries to share in stopping such things coming to Iraq."
As the ground realities in Iraq deteriorate, with at least 44,000 Iraqis killed since 2003, and as the country heads toward a potential civil war, the anxieties of the war-torn country's neighbors heighten about possible repercussions in their own territories. There is little doubt among most governments in the region that Iran's influence in Iraq is the key difference between status quo and improvement. Thus, the most constructive offer that Iran can make at this stage is not by lending a proactive hand, but by not extending a hand at all. The magic potion that Iraq urgently needs is an immediate end to Iran's interference.
In such a scenario, it is worth pondering how the international community can change tack and attempt at deriving a mechanism to force Iran to stay clear of Iraq's domestic affairs. This effort could take the shape of a resolution under the auspices of the United Nations. Article 2, Paragraph 7 of the United Nations Charter prohibits intervention in the internal affairs of other countries unless authorized by the United Nations Security Council. It states that: "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter..."
Though the 1965 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2131(XX) entitled 'Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty' is not legally binding, it states explicitly that, "No State has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are condemned."
While there are no clear precedents of United Nations resolutions dealing with cases that might be identical to the Iran-Iraq scenario, there have been a number of resolutions condemning occupation/aggression such as that of Kuwait by Iraq, or Bosnia by the Federation of Yugoslavia. In the case of Afghanistan, a draft resolution which deplored the intervention of the erstwhile Soviet Union and called for the withdrawal of its troops was vetoed by the Soviets. However, a 1980 General Assembly resolution reaffirmed that "respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state is a fundamental principle of the Charter" and strongly deplored "armed intervention in Afghanistan". The resolution appealed to all states "to refrain from any interference in the internal affairs of that country..."
Any proposed resolution could also borrow some elements of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 adopted in 2004. While this resolution called upon Lebanon to establish its sovereignty over all of its land and called upon "foreign forces" (referring to Syria) to withdraw from Lebanon, it also sought an end to intervention in the internal politics of Lebanon. The latter half of this resolution is certainly valid while seeking to prohibit Iran's interference in Iraq's internal affairs.
It is high time that the veil of secrecy surrounding certain neighboring countries' intervention in Iraq is lifted. At the same time, the Iraqi government should be empowered with the help of a United Nations Security Council mechanism that would compel Iran to submit a periodic report detailing its disengagement. It appears that while the hopes of a united Iraq may be fading in the midst of worsening sectarian strife, the only hands-on plan that is likely to pressure Iran to climb down is a UN resolution that is timely enacted and effectively implemented.