WASHINGTON'S crushing "containment" of Iraq and Iran -- Mideast
states seen as military threats -- may be fusing them together.
Iran, after being slapped with a tightened economic embargo by
the United States, is exploring an alliance with its neighbor and
former enemy Iraq.
It sent an 11-person delegation here last week, and Iranian
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayti will soon visit Baghdad.
The beleaguered Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein is taking a
cautious approach to Iran's overture, but appears to be going along
with Tehran's move in the hope that it could pressure the United
Nations into lifting its four-year-old trade embargo on Iraq.
Inflation and a recent cut in government food rations have put
basic foodstuffs beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis. The largest
bank note is worth 10 US cents, and people carry bricks of notes in
shopping bags to make even simple purchases.
If Tehran's drive for a peace treaty with Iraq succeeds, it
could challenge the US in its "dual containment" of the two
"There is no doubt that a meeting between Saddam and Iran's
Hashemi Rafsanjani would be the diplomatic coup of the century,"
says a European diplomat in Jordan who monitors events in Iraq.
"Any kind of rapprochement between Islamist Iran -- with its
leadership position in the world Islamic revolution -- and Iraq
would send some rather alarming signals to the West."
An Iran-Iraq alliance could threaten the uneasy balance that has
existed in the region since the defeat of Saddam in the 1991 Gulf
war, and could damage Mideast peace talks. But some diplomats say
that Iran's overtures are driven more by its need to counter US
sanctions than by a genuine desire for peace with Iraq.
"There has been a slow improvement in relations between the two
countries, but I don't think that Iran and Iraq have sufficiently
gotten over the eight-year war to be driven into each other's
arms," says a second foreign diplomat in Amman.
In downtown Baghdad, the heavily guarded Iraq headquarters of
the Mujahideen Khalq -- an Iranian opposition group intent on
overthrowing the religious leadership in Iran -- tends to lend
credence to this view that achieving a peace accord between the two
countries could take some time. But diplomats in Baghdad insist
there is a new seriousness about the Iranian peace initiative.
Iraq stands to gain from new trade routes through Iran and
outlets for its oil exports, which have been almost brought to a
halt by the UN embargo.
Iraq's recent efforts to lure potential trade partners to an
international oil conference to break international solidarity on
sanctions have backfired.
The UN Security Council cut off that possibility in March by
offering Iraq an interim deal that would allow the country to sell
$2 billion of its oil for humanitarian assistance to the country's
civilian population. …