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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Iran-Iraq Relations

Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

With a conventional military and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat from Saddam Hussein's regime removed, Iran seeks to ensure that Iraq can never again become a threat to Iran, either with or without U.S. forces present in Iraq. Some believe that Iran's intentions go well beyond achieving Iraq's "neutrality"— that Iran wants to try to harness Iraq to Iran's broader regional policy goals and to help Iran defend against international criticism of Iran's nuclear program. Others believe Iran sees Iraq as providing lucrative investment opportunities and a growing market for Iranian products and contracts. Still others believe that Iran wants only stability in Iraq so that Iran's leaders can concentrate on addressing the unrest in Iran that followed that country's June 12, 2009, presidential election. This domestic unrest has given Iran another reason to exercise influence in Iraq—to try to suppress Iranian dissidents located over the border inside Iraq. 

Iran has sought to achieve its goals in Iraq through several strategies: supporting pro-Iranian factions and armed militias; attempting to influence Iraqi political leaders and faction leaders; and building economic ties throughout Iraq that might accrue goodwill to Iran. It is Iran's support for armed Shiite factions that most concerns U.S. officials. That Iranian activity hindered—and continues to pose a threat to—U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, and has heightened the U.S. threat perception of Iran generally. 

Many of Iraq's current leaders were in exile in Iran or materially supported by Iran during Saddam's rule, and see Iran as a mentor and an influential actor in Iraq. Even those who have longstanding ties to Iran have asserted themselves as nationalist defenders of Iraqi interests, but Iraq appears to be a clearly subordinate partner in the relationship. Perhaps resenting this relationship, many Iraqi citizens have appeared to reject parties and factions who accept preponderant Iranian influence in Iraq. This sentiment has caused Iran to suffer key setbacks in Iraq. The most pro-Iranian factions generally fared poorly in the January 31, 2009, provincial elections and again in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the National Assembly that will choose the next government. A political bloc that is decidedly against Iranian influence and which is supported by Iraq's Sunni Arabs won the most seats in the March 7 election, although this bloc might not necessarily have enough support among other blocs to be able to assemble a government. Still, virtually all political blocs are consulting with Iran to try to gain its support for their inclusion in or dominance of any new government. 

Also see CRS Report RL32048,
Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.


Date of Report: April 15, 2010
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: RS22323
Price: $29.95

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