Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is scheduled to arrive in Baghdad on Saturday afternoon in an historic visit – the first to Iraq by such a high level representative from the Iranian government in 50 years.
Ahmadinejad will be accompanied by a delegation of 30 people who are already in Baghdad in preparation for his visit, which many in Iran have described as “taking a walk in a minefield.”
The Iranian leader is expected to meet Iraqi authorities and one of the key issues that they are expected to discuss is the charge that Iran is supporting rebel forces that are behind the many suicide bombings that have targeted Iraqi institutions.
Mohammed Abdullah al Ghawami, the head of the Mukhaberat, the Iraqi secret services, made just such an accusation ahead of Ahmadinejad’s visit.
On Wednesday he announced that he had documents which showed the support provided by the Iranian government and Iranian intelligence to al-Qaeda-linked groups operating in Iraq.
In the past, there have been reports in the Iraqi media about training camps for suicide bombers run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards along the border with Iraq as well as suicide belts made in Iran.
However this latest accusation is being made by an Iraqi institution against the Iranian government and it comes just as Iraq is preparing to welcome the Iranian leader.
Ahmadinejad also arrives in Baghdad as 11 officials of his Revolutionary Guards are currently detained in an Iraqi jail, and not in a detention centre run by the Americans. They have been accused of fuelling the violence and supporting the attacks against the government.
On top of this, for a number of weeks, Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, has stressed the necessity to review the accords signed between Tehran and Baghdad in Algeria in 1975.
The then Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the Iranian Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had signed agreements which defined the borders between the two countries after years of dispute.
The Iraqis, now that Saddam is no longer in charge, would like to review these accords, especially the part that regards the division of the river which marks the longest border between the two countries.
The river, which the Iraqis call Shat al-Arav and the Iranians refer to as Arvandroud, has been a problem between the two countries since 1932, when Iraq was established as an independent state.
At the time, the two countries were controlled by two monarchies and the problems were not addressed until the military came to power in Iraq and the issue was raised again.
In 1980, the two countries began fighting a war that lasted eight years and led to deaths of more than a million people.
The Iran-Iraq War also casts a long shadow over Ahmadinejad’s visit with four million people in Iran left handicapped by the conflict and entire cities destroyed.
The Iraqi bombs dropped in the northern suburbs of Tehran, and the memory of cities in southern and western Iran attacked by bombs carrying mustard gas or the deadly nerve agent Tabun, are still open wounds for the Iranians and have not been relegated to historical memories.
“Eight years of war cannot be forgotten with the fall of Saddam’s regime,” said Bahram Hasanzadeh of the official Iranian news agency Irna.
“Our people, do not understand how we can offer our money for the reconstruction of Iraq, when it is Iraq that should pay for the reconstruction of the Iranian cities that were destroyed during the war imposed by Saddam,” he said.
Iran and Iraq have never tolerated each other and speaking about good neighbourliness between the two countries is simply an ideal.
Iran has always viewed Iraq, since its creation, as a thorn in its side, a country that the winners of the First World War hoped would be a way to curb Iran’s regional potential. Iraq’s view of Iran is not much different.
“Persians, the Jews and the mosques, are three creatures that Allah should not have created,” said Saddam, citing his maternal uncle Kheirollah Tulfah.
The “Kurdish” problem is another element, that has affected ties between the two neighbouring countries.
The broad autonomy enjoyed by Iraqi Kurds living in northern Iraq, which is sanctioned by the new Iraqi constitution, has revived the Iranian Kurds’ aspirations.
There are more than seven million Iranian Kurds whose dream and desire is to achieve the same autonomy.
Iran has no intention of recognising the Kurdish region, even if they had praised the decision by the Iraqi parliament to concede to the Iraqi Kurds the right to their own autonomous government.
Ahmadinejad will arrive in Baghdad to find yet another problem, perhaps less difficult – its ties with the Americans.
Iraq, in fact has become the territory where Iran and the United States meet and clash.
As long as American troops remain in Iraq, Iran is unlikely to contribute to its stabilisation, because there cannot be any collaboration between the two countries with so little freedom of manoevre.
Until Iran resolves its problems with the United States – problems which go beyond the Iraqi border – it will have no interest in stabilising its neighbour, believing this will strengthen the United States in the region.
Iran is seeking to increase the chaos in Iraq and eventually to see the United States withdraw from the Persian Gulf in the same way that it was forced to do so from Vietnam.