Iran envoy pick is strong message for Iraq

New ambassador boasts superior connections to highest levels of defence, security and strategic decision making in Tehran.

2017/02/05 Issue: 92 Page: 5

The Arab Weekly
Mahan Abedin

The appointment of Brigadier-General Iraj Masjedi as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq is a significant develop­ment.

On the face of it, Masjedi’s appointment fits into a 14-year pattern of Iran posting senior figures of the expeditionary al-Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to its Baghdad embassy.

Both Masjedi’s predecessor, Hassan Danayifar, and Iran’s first ambassador to post-2003 Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, were senior figures in al-Quds Force, the highly regarded overseas special forces division of the IRGC.

There are, however, subtle yet important differences. Compared to his predecessors, the new ambassador is very senior in the IRGC hierarchy and boasts superior connections to the highest levels of defence, security and strategic decision making in Tehran.

From this perspective, Mas­jedi’s appointment is designed to send a strong message to key stakeholders and interested parties in Iraq, notably the Iraqi political establishment, the Americans and the Saudis.

Iran’s embassy in Baghdad is unique as it is under the full control of the IRGC.

The IRGC achieved notable success on two fronts. First, over time the IRGC organised Iraq’s long-beleaguered Shia commu­nity at dizzyingly complex political, security and military levels.

Second, it neutralised the threat from the People’s Mujahi­deen of Iran, an armed Iranian opposition group formerly based in Iraq, and through a mix of military pressure and political lobbying secured the group’s expulsion from Iraq last Septem­ber.

In view of Iran’s increasingly secure position in Iraq it may have been expected that the IRGC would scale back its activities in the country and, at minimum, agree to share the embassy with Iran’s Foreign Ministry. Masjedi’s appointment ends that specula­tion.

Three core factors have influ­enced the IRGC’s decision to intensify its role in Iraq; The continuing conflict in neighbour­ing Syria, the battle with the Islamic State (ISIS) inside Iraq and uncertainty over the new Ameri­can administration’s intentions towards Iraq.

Of paramount concern to the IRGC high command is the critical military and security requirement of consolidating Iraq as Iran’s strategic depth. To achieve this goal the IRGC-controlled embassy in Baghdad needs to conduct successful outreach to all major players in Iraq’s fractured political system.

While Iran has good ties with the Shia groups inside and outside government, the situation is less than satisfactory in relation to the Iraqi Kurds and the country’s proud Arab-Sunni community.

In respect of the Kurds, Masjedi is a good choice as ambassador since he has ties with Iraqi Kurdish leaders stretching back to the Iran-Iraq war and is widely thought to be trusted by them. Indeed, pro-Kurdish media have been generally supportive of Masjedi’s appointment.

It remains to be seen whether Masjedi can alter Iran’s security-orientated approach to the Arab-Sunni community, which, for more than a decade, has centred on containing its potential threat to the Shia-dominated establishment.

Above all, Masjedi’s key preoc­cupation will be to decipher American intentions with a view to making appropriate responses and adjustments. US influence in Iraq has been in decline for five years but this may change if the Trump administration intensifies military activity, ostensibly to fight ISIS.

If this scenario turns to reality then the IRGC and their new ambassador in Baghdad will be anxious to ensure that a heavier US footprint in Iraq does not upset the Islamic Republic’s sensitive outreach programmes to Iraqi political, security and paramili­tary groups.

Mahan Abedin, director of the research group Dysart Consulting, is an analyst of Iranian politics.

As Printed
Editors' Picks

The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

Senior Editor: John Hendel

Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

Regular Columnists

Claude Salhani

Yavuz Baydar


Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

Thomas Seibert (Washington)

Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


Ibrahim Ben Bechir

Hanen Jebali

Published by Al Arab Publishing House

Contact editor

Subscription & Advertising:

Tel 020 3667 7249

Mohamed Al Mufti

Marketing & Advertising Manager

Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

Al Arab Publishing House

Kensington Centre

177-179 Hammersmith Road

London W6 8BS , UK

Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

Follow Us
© The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved