I was interviewed this weekend by Fars Press (Iran’s first private news agency” about the talks that begin today between the United States and Iran over the security situation in Iraq. Similar talks were held previously regarding Afghanistan, and although the talks were helpful to the joint objectives of the United States and Iran, the American public remains largely unaware of their existence and the United States has in no way rewarded Iran for its cooperation. That makes the prospects for the current round of talks leading to a thaw in relations unpromising.
There are hardliners on both sides that do not want to see a warmer relationship between the two countries, but the possibility to exploit this opportunity remains if both sides are frank about their concerns and allow the general public to be aware of the details of the discussion so that world opinion may be brought to bear on both sides. Both sides will understandably want to put their respective national interests first, but a frank discussion may help both to realize that the realization of justice for the people of Iraq will in fact serve the national interests of both Iran and the United States. Both sides must be frank about their involvement in Iraqi affairs in order to put pressure on the other to adopt a less interventionist foreign policy.
Iran is in a unique position because it is not just a regional military and political power but, because of the common religious denominational affiliation with the majority of the Iraqi people, is uniquely placed to have a direct influence on the perceptions, strategies, and tactics of a large part of the Iraqi population. If the United States and Iran can come to a common visit of how Iraq may provide for its own security without the threat of Iraq becoming a puppet state of either power, or of providing an excuse for other regional powers to try to intervene in Iraqi affairs, then a scenario for the development of a sovereign Iraq will become plausible.
There are four conditions that are necessary for Iraq to attain security after an American withdrawal: (1) the revenues and control of the Iraqi oil industry must be decentralized and allocated in a fair manner among all the people of Iraq so that every Iraqi has an interest in the economic success of the industry; (2) autonomy of the three regions must be insured; the best way of doing this is to make a federation out of the Iraqi provinces with power decentralized to the maximum degree possible to the provincial and local level. This would obviate any concerns of domination by Sunnis and Shias or Arabs and Kurds, one over the other; (3) open declaration by all parties of commitment to the fundamental human rights guaranteed by Islamic law to all citizens: the right to life, religion, intellect, progeny and property; (4) a coordination of all security forces, meaning national army, local police, and militias to coordinate a united struggle against foreign forces in Iraq, including, but not limited to, al-Qaida.
It’s a very long shot, but it is possible for these talks to provide America with the leverage it needs to neutralize those in Iran who demonize the U.S., but it will require standing up to those in America who demonize Iran and Islam.