During his participation at the Al-Rafidain Center for Dialogue Forum held in Baghdad last week to discuss the volatile political and economic situation in Iraq, Iran’s ambassador to the country blatantly attempted to mislead global experts regarding Iranian policies there.
Ambassador Iraj Masjedi caused outrage because of his pompous attitude and false claims about Iran’s activities in Iraq. One Iraqi interlocutor expressed his contempt with frosty diplomatic politeness, saying: “We wish Iranian policy reflected what your excellency claimed.”
Two of Masjedi’s outrageous false claims, in particular, stunned and angered participants due to his sheer dishonesty. First, he insisted that Iran has not interfered in Iraqi affairs and has no proxies present there; and, second, he said that Iran is the only country expressing solidarity with Iraq and standing with it during difficult times.
In another ludicrous claim, Masjedi again attempted to mislead the participants, who were all experts fully aware of Iraq’s realities, by claiming that Iran provides Iraq with gas and electricity despite receiving no payment from Baghdad. Despite the presence of experts on Iraqi affairs, Masjedi spoke as if they had no idea about the tragic situation in Iraq, which Iran contributed to by turning it into a weak and divided country on all levels.
There is no better way to refute Masjedi’s ludicrous claims than citing the constitutional articles of the Velayat-e Faqih regime he represents and the official remarks made by its key figures.
Concerning Iran’s alleged non-interference in Iraq, some, if not most, of the participants were familiar with several Iranian constitutional clauses that permit interference in other countries. These include Paragraph 5 of Article 2, along with Articles 152 and 154, all of which legitimize “exporting the revolution” worldwide, and Articles 3 and 154, which legitimize “helping the vulnerable.”
The current commander-in-chief of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen. Hossein Salami, stated in 2015, while he was deputy commander of the IRGC, that: “Officials in Iran never expected the rapid spread of the revolution beyond borders into Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Palestine and Afghanistan.”
Is it reasonable to believe that the participants would also overlook another of Salami’s admissions — made as IRGC deputy commander in April 2018 — that Iran had recruited fighters from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Lebanon, along with Iranian fighters, to fight in Syria? And were participants expected to disregard the statement of former IRGC Commander-in-Chief Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari in March 2019, when he claimed that Iran had formed a 100,000-strong force to fight in Iraq and another 100,000-strong force to fight in Syria?
The participants, aghast at Masjedi’s claims, also wondered about Iran’s provision of ballistic missiles, such as the Zelzal, Fateh-110 and Zolfaghar, whose ranges extend from between 200 km to 700 km, to its militias in Iraq. The participants were also curious about the vast sums of money Iran had paid to its militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen — estimated to be $16 billion in recent years, according to a study published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies titled “Iran’s Networks of Influence in the Middle East.”
Regarding Iran’s “solidarity” with the Iraqi people, just one day after Masjedi’s speech, on Wednesday last week, the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity announced that it had lost more than 5,500 megawatts of power production, which is equivalent to the total Iranian share of gas and electricity to Iraq, due to Iranian gas supplies declining. Tehran’s share is a third of Iraq’s total electricity production. According to former Iraqi Minister of Electricity Majid Mahdi Hantoush, who resigned from his position in protest at the situation, Iraq produces 16,000 megawatts, while its actual electricity needs amount to 30,000 megawatts.
Due to Masjedi’s false claims, the Iraqi government was keen to swiftly expose his lies, particularly after Iran ended its exports of electricity to Iraq, which increased the latter’s deficit from 14,000 megawatts to 19,500 megawatts.
Like the participants at the Baghdad forum, the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity is also keen to discover the identity of the friendly country that Masjedi claimed is expressing solidarity with Iraq. Does Iran not know that public discontent against the Iraqi government has grown, leading to mass protests in the country following the termination of its electricity exports?
The participants also wondered about the reasons why the Iranian ambassador ignored the fact that Iraqi security services had, in July, blamed pro-Velayat-e Faqih militias for attacking electricity pylons. The Iraqi security services asserted that the statements issued by Iran blaming Daesh for the attacks were inaccurate, since the pylons fell within the areas where Popular Mobilization Units militias were deployed, such as Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah Al-Din and Mosul. Also, only the pro-Velayat-e Faqih militias have access to the Katyusha missiles used in the attacks on the pylons.
By targeting electricity pylons and power plants, Iran is sending a message to Iraq’s new Arab and Gulf partners in the energy sector. Tehran is warning them that all their investments will be blown up if they do not reconsider their energy agreements with Iraq. Tehran wants to retain control over the supply of electricity to Iraq so that it can use this as leverage to pressure the Iraqi government.
Masjedi is well aware that Iran not only ceased electricity exports to Iraq, but also deprived the country of using associated petroleum gas, which constitutes nearly 70 percent of Iraqi gas. Due to a lack of infrastructure, nearly 60 percent of APG has been burnt over the years on Iranian orders. This ensures Iraq’s electricity crisis will persist.
It is a paradox that Iraq burns 10 times the amount it imports from Iran, according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Iraq’s former Minister of Electricity Qasim Al-Fahdawi revealed that there are external actors impeding the country’s efforts to invest in APG. “There are disputes that made the stable flow of electricity pawn to the Iranian artery,” he said, adding that “the former Iraqi Minister of Electricity, Jabbar Alluaibi, had attempted to invest in this gas at Nahran field, but he stumbled into some difficulties represented in the interests of some parties and outside influence.” He indicated that this field could have secured 75 percent of the gas imported from Iran.
Masjedi’s talk of Iran standing by Iraq during its crises contradicts Iran’s need for Iraqi money. In reality, Tehran’s need for Baghdad outweighs Iraq’s need for Iran. Iraq only needs Iran at the present time to meet its electricity requirements until it is able to generate sufficient power on its own or import it from brotherly Arab countries. Meanwhile, Iran needs Iraqi money to mitigate the impact of the continuing economic sanctions on it due to its destructive behavior.
The Iranian ambassador’s talk of Tehran standing by Baghdad during its crises contradicts Iran’s need for Iraqi money.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
Iraq is also considered a major marketplace for Iranian goods, which are universally viewed as being shoddy and low quality. Meanwhile, the Iran-Iraq trade volume has reached $13 billion, according to remarks made by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi following the Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership. Iran obstructs, via its proxies, any Arab-Iraqi investment deals or transactions of higher-quality goods to ensure that the Iraqi market remains a venue serving its interests only.
In conclusion, I would like to note that Iran is using its electricity supply to Iraq in the searing summer heat as leverage against the Iraqi government due to various considerations. These considerations are related to Al-Kadhimi’s pursuit of balanced foreign relations and his progress in transitioning Iraq from the stage of chaos to the stage of state control. In addition, Iran wants to curb the prime minister’s movement toward the Arab sphere, especially in the field of energy.
Al-Kadhimi’s moves have worried Iran because Tehran is likely to lose the powerful leverage it deploys against the Iraqi government, limiting its ability to stir popular discontent, like with the protests that broke out in 2018 and 2020 against the governments of Haider Abadi and Adel Abdul Mahdi.
- Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami