A Triangular Relationship
According to the Iraqi ambassador to the United States, "pulling the economic lever" is the best way to tame the threat of Tehran. In a speech at the Nixon Center yesterday, Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie gave the Iraqi perspective on the tribulations regarding Iran-particularly its current and future involvement in Iraq and its uranium enrichment program.
Of utmost concern is avoiding "jeopardizing what we have achieved" by pulling the "military lever" and enflaming the present security situation in the region. The ambassador credited both General Petraeus and the Iraqi Security Forces for the "general improvement of the security situation" that he described as "very encouraging." He warned, however, "we are just-by the skin of our teeth-pulling out of a very difficult period." Militarily provoking Iran could erase this progress and the Iraqi government "wants more time to consolidate these gains."
As the triangular relationship between Iraq, Iran and the United States is complex, Ambassador Sumaida'ie noted, "We, in Iraq, have to maintain a careful balance between our relationship with Iran and our relationship with the United States."
"We see our future linked to the United States and we see ourselves becoming long-term allies of the United States in the region and internationally. That doesn't suit some of our neighbors, including Iran", he pronounced.
While he emphasized Iraq's crucial ties to Washington, Sumaida'ie explained that a "reasonably workable relationship" with Iran is necessary for maintaining security in the region. "Iran has demonstrated its ability to create problems for us."
The ambassador elaborated that he believes Iran has been possibly supporting both Sunni and Shi‘i organizations in order to cause as much trouble as possible. "[To hard-line Iranians] this is a perfect opportunity to ensure that the United States is defeated in Iraq. . . .To have the Americans leave Iraq with a bloody nose would be a huge bonus for the Iranian regime", Sumaida'ie explained.
Yet hope remains. The ambassador explained that Iran "is not universally loved in Iraq" and many Iraqis view Iranians as "high-handed" and "bigots." Furthermore, he remarked, "This whole idea of revolutionary [Islam]. . . doesn't sit well with a society [that] is broadly secular."
Even with religious tensions, Sumaida'ie explained that some economic ties between the two countries are desirable. The prospect of "religious tourism" in Iraq may help build the economy. And while religious ties may provide an effective mechanism for negotiation between Iraq and Iran, the ambassador emphasized that the "biggest vulnerability" is the Iranian economy. The United States is in a much better position to manipulate this weakness and utilize it as a negotiating tool.
"If the Iranian system is going to crack, it's going to crack under the weight of the economy-not under the blows of a military attack. . . .Internal stability is very precarious if that side of things deteriorates", he concluded.
Caitlin B. Doherty is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.