TEHRAN (Iran News) – Iran-Iraq relations impervious to machination. A mysterious set of events is unfolding in Iraq that resulted in a state of anxiety in the Iran-Iraq relations, prompting pundits to ponder whether there were plans to undermine relations between the two countries.
First of all, there was a lengthy report by Yahoo News claiming to disclose new details about the U.S. assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani. Citing interviews with 15 current and former U.S. officials, the turgid report took a deep dive into U.S. preparations to assassinate the Iranian general. However, it failed to provide previously unknown jaw-dropping details about the assassination except for a bunch of claims of Kurdish involvement in the strike. These claims were quickly rejected by Kurdish authorities in Iraq.
The Counter Terrorism Group (CTG), a counter-terrorism unit affiliated with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) that was accused in the report of playing a key role in facilitating the strike against General Soleimani, has denied any involvement in the assassination. “We deny any involvement or awareness of our forces in such act,” reads a statement from the CTG sent to Rudaw English. “General Qassem Soleimani was a close friend of the late Mam Jalal [Talabani], and counter-terrorism units once fought on the frontlines against terrorism where Qassem Soleimani was also fighting.”
Iran has stopped short of directly pointing the finger at the CTG but said anyone linked to the assassination of General Soleimani must be held accountable.
Pundits believe that the report may have been intended to undermine Iran’s relations with the Iraqi Kurdish region and deflect attention away from those really behind the assassination.
Reza al-Ghurabi, an Iraqi expert on Iran, said on Twitter that the Yahoo News report fostered suspicion among Iranian media outlets against Iraqi Kurdistan and deflected attention away from elements who facilitated the assassination.
In the midst of the controversy over the report, a prominent Iraqi protest leader in the holy city Karbala was shot dead in the latest of assassinations targeting activists who played a key role in organizing anti-government protests.
The protest leader, Ihab al-Wazni, was murdered in broad daylight outside his home. As usual, some Iraqi and regional parties sought to blame his murder on Iran while portraying al-Wazni as an anti-corruption activist who had opposed Iran’s influence in his country.
While the Iraqi government was still investigating the assassination, The Arab Weekly, a publication close to the United Arab Emirates, pointed the finger at Iran.
Citing an activist close to al-Wazni, the publication said, “They are Iranian militias. They assassinated Ihab and they will kill us all. They threaten us and the government is silent.”
This incitement of hate against Iran has provoked a mob of protesters setting fire to the Iranian consulate in Karbala. Iran sent a letter of protest to the Iraqi embassy in Tehran and summoned the Iraqi ambassador. Iran also called on Iraq to provide protection for its diplomatic missions in accordance with international law.
The assassination of al-Wazni indicated that how far some regional local parties would go to defame Iran and mobilize public opinion against it even though it had played no role in the assassination.
These parties are now seeking to exploit the plight of another Iraqi activist who incurred severe injuries during an assassination attempt in Diwaniya. Ahmed Hassan, an Iraqi journalist, was in intensive care after being shot in the head early Monday. No one claimed responsibility.
Iran and Iraq enjoy deep, historic relations that despite highs and lows continue to be mutually beneficial to both sides. And this has angered some local and regional parties who wish to fish in Iraq’s troubled waters. These parties now seek to exploit the fraught situation in Iraq to drive a wedge between Iran and Iraq by accusing some Iraqi groups of being Iranian surrogates. With the general Iraqi parliamentary election a few months away, the political tussle between Iraqi groups is expected to intensify given the strong desire among some regional states to exacerbate polarization in Iraq.
The Arab Weekly claimed that “the upcoming battle for the protest movement [in Iraq] is likely to be with the Shia parties that are exclusively loyal to Iran.”
This portrayal of certain Iraqi political groups as pro-Iran factions may reflect a desire by the United Arab Emirates and other regional states to defame these groups ahead of the next Iraqi election.
Regardless of the motivations behind the recent assassination, Iran has made it clear that it highly values its relations with Iraq and will never let certain hands undercut these relations. That’s why Iran refused to escalate diplomatic tensions after its consulate was set alight and dealt with the issue calmly.