05/24/2024, 13.29
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Iraqi expert: Raisi death does not change balance in Baghdad, in the hands of Khamenei

by Dario Salvi

For Adel Bakawan, the death of the Iranian President (buried yesterday in his hometown of Mashhad) and Foreign Minister will not have a ‘significant impact’ on relations. Relations managed by the Pasdaran following the ‘dictates’ of the Supreme Leader. Iranian influence in the Iraqi elite remains deep and ‘nothing seems feasible or governable without Tehran's consent’.


Milan (AsiaNews) - ‘It is highly unlikely’ that the deaths of the Iranian president and foreign minister in the helicopter crash on May 19 ‘can have a significant impact on relations between Iran and Iraq’. This is what Adel Bakawan, director of the French Research Centre on Iraq (Cfri), a profound connoisseur of Middle Eastern affairs and, in particular, of Iraq, Kurdistan, and issues related to jihad and terrorism, emphasises in an interview with AsiaNews.

This is due to the fact that ‘these relations [...] are not managed by the president or the government’ but, he adds, by the Pasdaran who ‘follow the dictates of the supreme guide’ Ali Khamenei’. Born in Iraq in 1971, the Franco-Iraqi professor and sociologist is also a member of the Institut de Recherche et d'Etudes Méditerranée Moyen-Orient - Iremmo, a research associate at the Arab Centre for Research and Political Studies (Carep) and a lecturer at the University of Evry. ‘The fact remains,’ he observes, ‘that among Iraqi elites, Iranian influence is still pervasive and intense. To the point that nothing seems feasible or governable without Tehran's consent on key issues’.

Meanwhile, a burial ceremony for the Iranian president took place in Mashhad, his hometown, four days after the incident. The 63-year-old exponent of the radical faction, with a past of death sentences and frequent use of the death penalty, a possible successor to the post of supreme leader, was buried in the holy shrine of Imam Reza, a revered figure in Shia Islam.

Among the seven people who died was also Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, 60, who was buried yesterday at the Shah Abdol-Azim shrine in Rey, a southern suburb of the capital Tehran. In attendance was interim President Mohammad Mokhber, who will hold office until the 28 June vote. State media rhetoric did not hesitate to call the president's burial ‘historic’ with ‘millions of people’ attending. In reality, there were also scenes of festivity and celebrations in the country for the disappearance of one of the ‘symbols’ of the ongoing repression that has worsened in the aftermath of Mahsa Amini's death. A hunt for the opponent that has also crossed the borders of the Islamic Republic, to extend into Iraqi territory as has happened in recent months.
Below is the complete interview with Adel Bakawan: 

How did Iraq react to the death of the Iranian president (and foreign minister)?

The reaction was at two levels: state and society. At the state level, the Iraqi government, which maintains close relations with Iran, showed a cordial and compassionate response. This reaction was consistent across various political and ethnic groups, including Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish groups, all of whom have strong ties with the Iranian government. The Iraqi President and a delegation, along with the Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, traveled to Tehran to offer their condolences.

At the societal level, the response was different. There was a sense of satisfaction among some people, who viewed Raisi as an oppressor. Therefore, there was a notable break in reactions to the disappearance of the President at the state level and Iraqi society level. 

Tehran influences Iraqi politics and society in various ways: what consequences could result from this incident? And what is the most credible version?
It is highly unlikely that the death [of the president and the foreign minister] will have a significant impact on relations between Iran and Iraq. These relations in the first place are not managed by the Iranian president or government, but are governed by the Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdaran), who follow the dictates of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Regarding the helicopter crash, there are at least four credible versions in the country's public opinion: technical problems with the helicopter; adverse weather conditions; an attack by a foreign nation; an internal conspiracy orchestrated by Raisi's opponents. However, the fact remains that so far the Islamic Republic of Iran has not taken up any of these theses - at least officially - and the investigation into the incident is ongoing. 

Could what happened be a further factor of instability for Iraq and the Middle East in general?No, the disappearance of President Raisi does not impact the management of power dynamics in Iraq or the wider Middle East. This is because it is not the Iranian government that handles such matters, but rather the Supreme Leader, who oversees various Middle Eastern issues including the conflict between Hamas and Israel, militia groups in Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, the Syrian civil war, and overall relations in the Arab world.

At what level are relations between Tehran and Baghdad today?

Iraq holds significant importance in the Islamic world and is crucial for Iran's national security. Consequently, Iran can negotiate its presence in other Middle Eastern countries, except Iraq, due to reasons related to security, economics, culture, geopolitics, and religion. The Islamic Republic of Iran maintains strong relations with all three major segments of Iraqi society: Shiites, Kurds, and Sunnis. However, if any of these groups attempt to break away from Iranian influence, they face severe repercussions, as seen with the Iraqi Kurds.

Raisi was scheduled to visit Iraq shortly, his first as president. What were the topics at the centre of the meeting and what was the value of this visit?he meeting was anticipated for several months. The main topics of discussion between Raisi and the Iraqis were the economy, security (including the presence of Iranian opposition on Iraqi soil), and diplomatic relations between both countries. However, now we must await the next president of the republic and a favorable context in both Iraq and Iran for such a visit to take place.

Tehran is the reference point of Shia Islam. Is Iranian influence today greater from a political or religious point of view?

From a societal standpoint, there is significant resentment among Iraqis towards Iranian influence in Iraq. This sentiment was reflected in the initial slogan of the protest movement: "Iran sleeps but Iraq must stay free." However, among the Iraqi elite, Iranian influence is pervasive and intense. To the extent that nothing seems achievable or governable without Iranian consent on key issues.


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