Ahmadinejad in Baghdad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began a two day visit to Baghdad by implictly praising the effect of US actions in Iraq, then attacking it's policy toward Iran. He said "visiting Iraq without the dictator is a good thing," then replied to charges Teheran was supplying EFPs to insurgents by saying "(U.S. President) Bush always accuses others without evidence and this increases problems, the Americans have to understand that Iraqi people do not like America."
The Iranian president appears to have accepted that Iraq is here to stay.
"Iraqi people are passing through a critical situation but as we know, the Iraqi people will overcome the situation and the Iraq of tomorrow will be a powerful, developed and unique Iraq ... an independent state ... the people of Iran and Iraq have close bonds, and there are many holy shrines in Iraq ... people travel there, so we have age-old, historical bonds and common civilization."
This last comment is extremely interesting. At a recent blogger's conference it was remarked that southern Iraq is thriving; and that the pilgrim trade has risen so high that next year it is expected to be two or three times its size.
Several background factors may help clarify to the purposes of Ahmedinajad's trip. The the most important is gas. Iran needs money, both to line the Ayatollah's pockets and to head off domestic unrest. And Europe needs energy. The European Union and the United States have been looking to Iran as an alternative source of natural gas to Russia. A pipeline between Iran and the EU via Turkey would be of enormous value to both. But lingering suspicions over Iran's intentions in Iraq and its nuclear ambitions have stood in the way. The great powers at the UN are preparing yet another round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear weapons program, sanctions which, from the point of gas pipelines, neither wants.
The next most important is Iran's need to avoid the ruinous expense of having to match the deployments of the new 13-division Iraqi Army on its borders. It has probably now been accepted in Teheran that toppling the new Iraq or subverting it to Iranian control is beyond the capability of the Qods or the Shi'ite militias in Iraq. One of the unappreciated effects of the Surge has been the return of the Sunnis to the national political table. With the Sunnis politically reconciled to the US, albeit partially, Iran's victory option in Iraq has vanished.
A negotiated deal to put a definite stop to the Iranian nuclear weapons program and an undertaking by Iran to abandon all efforts to destabilize Iraq would remove the major obstacles to a gas pipeline deal, and avoid further Iranian entanglements in Iraq. Iran would then have its pipeline. A 'strong and united Iraq' might also forestall a political threat to the Shi'ite theocracy from southern Iraq. The virus of Sistani-ism may spread east through the millions of pilgrims who will visit Iraq to infect the Islamic Revolution. If the gas pipeline is Teheran's fondest dream a popular alternative model to its fading theocratic rule may be its worst nightmare.
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