Zarif Meeting Tribal Leaders in Iraq Provokes Ire, Criticism

Friday, 18 January, 2019 - 11:45
Baghdad- Fadel Al-Nashmi

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif meeting with Iraqi tribal leaders triggered a heavy backlash against Iran, as activists and politicians said the diplomat’s behavior wasn’t aligned with international and diplomatic conventions.

Zarif had been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan since last Sunday, heading a delegation of political and economic representatives and making stops at each of Najaf and Basra. No foreign official has spent that long in Iraq, with Zarif himself admitting to his Iraq tour being the “longest trip made this year”.

The visit came just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a surprise stop on his regional tour to urge Iraq to stop relying on Iran for gas and electricity imports.

Zarif, citing Iran "support", urged Iraq to give Iranian companies a leading role in its national reconstruction efforts.

Former editor in chief of Al-Sabah newspaper Falah al-Mishaal said that Zarif's lengthy visit “goes beyond the economic goals”.

Zarif means to reorganize tactics with pro-Iranian politicians in Iraq and seek insight into the aftereffects of Pompeo's visit.

“Zarif's meeting with a number of tribal sheikhs is an unprecedented step, not in line with diplomatic norms, because it is a tactical meeting and constitutes a violation of Iraqi sovereignty, a publicity stunt by Iran to unwarrantedly gain accesses to Iraqi tribes,” Mishaal told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Iraqi activist and writer Nasser al-Yasiri agreed with Mishaal’s views on the subtext guiding Zarif’s visit, saying that Iran is hoping to rally “support from tribal sheikhs in the event of any possible confrontation with the United States.”

“They think some tribal leaders are able to mobilize their followers against America if necessary and this is unlikely in my estimation,” Yasiri said.

“It is expected from him (Zarif) as a foreign minister to seek opening up new horizons for political and economic cooperation with Iraq, not to care about clan affairs, which we always have and always will criticize,” he added.

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