Could Iraq’s current crisis bring Iran back into the International fold?
Foreign diplomacy is a tricky business in the Middle East. Competing factions cause an ever changing political landscape. The Islamic state’s rapid rise to notoriety comes only a few years on from the decline of Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless certain aspects of Middle Eastern diplomacy have remained constant. Tensions between the United States and Iran being a prime example. Since the Iranian revolution and subsequent hostage crisis the two nations have been virtual enemies. A chequered history of hostage taking, accusations of state sponsored terrorism and nuclear develop are a testament to this. However the recent success of the Islamic State gives the United States and Iran a common enemy. Cooling tensions between Iran and the International community has been a slow process of negotiations. This common goal of ending the Islamic State’s grip on the region could be the perfect catalyst for improving diplomatic relations.
Many of the modern efforts to reform Iran have come following the election of President Hassan Rouhani. Recently the Presidential twitter account was used to celebrate the achievements of Maryam Mirzakhani, showing a picture of her unscarfed. This would have been simply unthinkable under previous administrations. A once deteriorating economy is also improving. Rocketing inflation is slowly being reversed. The countries inflation rate has been halved from a high of 45% in July 2013. Meanwhile its economic outlook is predicted to improve as the IMF forecast growth of 1-2% for 2015. Much of this has been achieved by a variety of measures brought in by President Rouhani. Such measures included the cutting of regulation and policies to promote tourism. President Rouhani certainly seems to have delivered on his promise of ruling with “moderation and wisdom.” Much of this could have been achieved without some of the sanctions being lifted by the International community. Under the period of harsh sanctions Iran’s legitimate oil industry all but stopped. Only by continuing to engage with the International community can Iran turn this improvement into long term growth.
Iran possess a unique position within the Iraq crisis. Where intervention by America can only really create more problems than solutions, Iran is well placed to aid Iraq’s authorities in preventing the spread of Islamic State across the area. Historical differences between Shia and Sunni Muslim are responsible for much of current crisis. Al Malaki’s failure to appeal to the Sunni population of Iraq opened the door to groups who has their interests at heart. Therefore within the crisis America would be well advised to court Iran’s help and cooperate in order to prevent the continued advance of the Islamic State. Iraq’s crisis has also demonstrated the influence which Iran can exert on the politics of the surrounding region. Al Malaki’s eventual exit only really came about due to the end of Iran’s support for his administration. Likewise the new authority of Haidur Al-Abadi could only work with the backing of Iran. The difficult history of relations between the United States and Iran may previously have been a significant block to the repairing of relations. Nevertheless the common goal to see the back of the Islamic State group could be powerful enough to begin to alter this. This would be crucial to helping to uphold one of the few stable regimes left in the Middle East.
Even so questions remain as to how far Iran is willing to reform. Iran remains by far the most prolific enforcer of the death penalty. During 2013 more than 369 individuals were executed according to Amnesty International. It is well known that Iran has at times overstepped the mark in restricting basic human rights like the freedom of speech. The Guardian reported that Iran’s revolutionary court was being used to convict journalists, lawyers and political activists who had spoken out against the administration. Although these human rights concerns are important, Iran’s nuclear ambitions are the cause for the greatest controversy. Only a few days ago Iran refused UN nuclear inspectors entrance to the Parchin military base. This will only serve to build concern of the true nature of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This comes at a period of continued tension between Iran and Israel. The shooting down of an Israeli spy plane over Iran has hardly helped to sooth the dialogue between these old adversaries.
Iran has made much progress over the past few years towards improving its International reputation. The economy is far healthier than it was once. International sanctions may well be removed if negotiations over its nuclear ambitions are successful. Working with America to remove the threat of IS from the region could provide a great accelerator for this process. However if Iran continues to hide aspects of its nuclear programme from the International community this progress could well be undone. Meanwhile its own shaky history of human rights violations only serves to make its return to the International community even more of a challenge. The opportunity to lift sanctions and work alongside the United States is within Iran’s grasp. It should grasp it rather than jeopardise its own economic future.