US Urged to Discuss Iraq with Iran

A0087080.jpgTEHRAN (Fars News Agency)- Iran could play a crucial role in curbing Iraq’s Shiite militias if the U.S. opens a dialogue with Tehran as recommended by the Iraq Study Group, many in the Mideast say.

But Iran’s cooperation would depend on how much it trusts Washington in any deal that was struck. And all observers agree that Iran alone, even with help from its ally Syria, cannot bring peace and that a collective effort of Mideast nations is needed.

So far this week’s recommendations by the bipartisan commission have not swayed President Bush from his opposition to opening talks with Washington’s top rivals in the region, Iran and Syria.

“Countries that participate in talks must not fund terrorism, must help the young democracy survive, must help with the economics of the country,” Bush said Thursday. “If people are not committed, if Syria and Iran are not committed to that concept, then they shouldn’t bother to show up.”

But the panel’s chiefs – former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton – underlined before Congress that Washington needs to at least try.

Mainly Shiite Iran has close ties to the parties that run Iraq’s Shiite militias. Iran says it will only step in to help resolve the crisis if the Americans stop making such accusations and announce a timetable for the withdrawal of their troops.

Also, Iranians need assurances from the United States that it will not make accusations against it for their own “propaganda reasons,” according to analysts.

Iranians felt betrayed when Bush, in his 2002 State of the Union Speech, referred to them as part of an “Axis of Evil,” even after Tehran cooperated with the United States during its war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

Iran may also look for concessions in return for any help – an end to U.S. sanctions, for example. Some hard-liners in the Iranian government also want the U.S. to recognize its rights to develop its nuclear program, a concession Washington may not be willing to make.

In Bahrain, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Saturday Iran was willing to help out in Iraq, but pressed on details.

“When they have decided to withdraw from Iraq, then we will explain,” Mottaki said. “We are in a position to help by all means for the stability of Iraq.”

Iran could probably push the major Shiite militias like the Mahdi Army and Badr Brigade to stop sectarian killings. But if suicide bombings and other slayings by Sunni insurgents don’t come to a halt as well, the Shiites will not end their reprisals for long.

The Sunni insurgents are believed to be a patchwork of groups – former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, Iraqi Islamic extremists and non-Iraqi al-Qaeda-linked militants, their ranks fed by Iraqi Sunni Arabs embittered by the Shiites’ new domination of the country and by killings of Sunnis.

Syria is believed to have influence over former Baathist leaders, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia have strong ties to Iraq’s Sunni population. All would be needed to convince Sunnis that reconciliation with the Shiites stands a chance.

As a first step, Iranians would like to see U.S. troops leave Iraqi towns, hand over the intelligence apparatus to the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – as well as all the decision-making tasks – and bolster the Iraqi police, said Ahmad Bakhshayesh, professor of political science at Tehran University.

Iraqi Shiites are worried that the United States would take away the powers they have gained for the first time in history. “That is why the Mahdi Army is fighting them,” he said.

His comments highlight another complication in the delicate process. Many Shiites in Iraq tend to see any demands by Sunni Arabs for a greater share in government as an attempt to reverse the power Shiites won in elections. Sunnis, on the other hand, complain that Shiites are squeezing them out.

Any long-term stop to violence will require both sides – and their backers in the region – to be assured their sometimes contradictory interests will be sustained.

“Iraq is not easy, but it’s not insolvable,” said Musayeb Naimi, editor of Iran’s Arabic language magazine al-Wifaq. The Iraq Study Group report “is positive on condition that it will be followed by a practical plan. To get Iran’s cooperation there must be that initial trust.”

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