We have been following the visits of various Iraqis to Iran in these pages (here and here), but the one that is taking place now represents a major new potential Shiite alliance in the Middle East.
The coverage in the Tehran Times tells us that economic, political, and security cooperation issues between the two countries are being discussed, along with ways to "fight against the development of Arab terrorism in the region and the world." (emphasis added) (see the story about the arrest in Iran of a large group of Al-Queda-linked terrorists)
The Tehran Times article claims that the religious and historical affinities between Iran and Iraq have been constrained by certain "developments", particularly the former Iraqi Baath regime causing "regional insecurity." They conclude that these "developments" have always benefited "certain neocolonial countries."
Perhaps the most unambiguous claim is that these "neocolonial countries" have "always feared the common religious beliefs of the Iranian and Iraqi nations." The article goes on to describe how the US coalition has worked to prevent any kind of Shia (Shiite) "crescent" from forming in the region, claiming that this was a huge mistake by the occupying powers resulting in 1800 dead US soldiers from "Arab terrorists." The message to Washington is clear: an Iraqi-Iranian Shia crescent alliance is the best way to stop Arab terrorism in the region.
The piece makes clear that the most significant threat to Iraq and the region would be an Iraqi civil war, between Shia and Sunni. Iran, a country that has just elected a new President who advocates stricter discipline for women, deeper theocratic rule, and state control of the economy, can play a big part in preventing an Iraqi civil war by working on reconstructing Iraq and providing skilled workers. Iran is America's ally, not in so many words. In all of Donald Rumsfeld's musing, did he ever once think of this one?
The one sticking point in all this is the continued Iranian insistence that Iraq pay Iran $1 trillion in war reparations. "According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 598, Iraq was the aggressor in the war with the Islamic Republic and must pay reparations to Iran."
The BBC coverage is more muted and contains warnings about US concerns, describing them as "uneasy" which must be humorous British understatement.
The BBC describes how both air and rail links between the two countries will be expanded, and how a new pipeline will bring crude oil to Iran from Iraq.
The New York Times/Reuters story adds that "Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Iraq's industry minister saying that Iran and Iraq would start joint carmaking projects..." and that "Iran has agreed to send about 200,000 tonnes of flour to Iraq and will guarantee letters of credit issued by an Iraqi bank to a total of $300 million. "
How has the US administration responded to all this?
In the four days prior to the Iraqi visit to Iran, no questions were asked by the press corps at press briefings, press gaggles, and other press events at the White House, State Department or Defense Department.
You'd think someone would like to know how American officials feel about the Iraqi Prime Minister making a major visit of reconciliation and alliance to one of the member countries of George Bush's Axis of Evil.