Isolating Iraqi Shiites Will Only Benefit Iran
Zalmay Khalilzad, a leading neo-conservative intellectual in the Bush Administration, is the US ambassador to the United Nations. He was previously ambassador to Iraq and to Afghanistan. He spoke with NPQ/Global Viewpoint in late April.
NPQ | The United States wants to impose ever-tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, yet the US-backed government in Iraq recently welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad with pomp and open arms in an unprecedented state visit. Why does the US see Iran as a greater threat than the government in Iraq?
Zalmay Khalilzad | Iraq is a sovereign country. Iran is its neighbor. We have not sought a hostile relationship between Iran and Iraq. What we have sought is for them to be good neighbors—for Iran not to assist militants and interfere in Iraqi affairs by training, equipping and financing fighters who work against not only the Iraqi security forces but also the coalition forces that are there under UN resolutions at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Regarding the visit of Ahmadinejad, that is a decision the Iraqi government made.
NPQ | But the Maliki government certainly doesn't seem to see Iran as a threat in the way the US government does.
Khalilzad | There is a difference of view among the political forces in Iraq. If you talk with Iraqi leaders privately they say they do see the threat. Now there is beginning to be a change where some are willing to talk publicly about the Iranian menace.
Look, they are neighbors. Some in Iraq want the best possible relationship with Iran. But the Iranians have persisted so long in their bad behavior that even those people are reconsidering relations with Iran.
The Shia of Iraq are more Iraqi with respect to resenting Iranian influence than the fact that they belong to a common religious sect might suggest. That is why it is important for the Arab world to become more involved diplomatically in Iraq—to have their embassies open and not to isolate the Shia of Iraq. If the Iraqi Shia become isolated from the Arab world, they will be pushed closer to Iran.