Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Labid Abbawi, Iraqi Foreign Ministry under secretary, stated that the discussions with Iran over pending differences between the two countries, particularly over border issues, “are going well.” He made this statement as the commanders of the Iraqi and Iranian border guards held a meeting to discuss border problems and implementation of the Algiers Agreement. Abbawi told Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraq and Iran hold “periodic meetings on the level of the commanders of the border guards to discuss joint issues to learn about the problems that occasionally arise in this respect.” Regarding the points of disagreement between the two countries, Abbawi said that “there are joint committees that occasionally meet and matters are proceeding well regarding most pending issues between the two countries.”
It should be recalled that the most conspicuous differences between Iraq and Iran are the POWs of the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s, the Iraqi aircraft that were dispatched to Iran during the 1991 war, the demarcation of the border, and issues relating to the Shatt al-Arab problem.
Qasim Rezai, commander of the Iranian border guard, made a statement in which he said that the Iranian and Iraqi commanders of the border guards and officials in charge of the border areas between the two countries have held a meeting to discuss border issues. He said that the meeting at the Khasrawi crossing (in western Iran) on Thursday was held on the basis of the Algiers Agreement signed in1975. At a news conference with the Iraqi border guard commander, Lt Gen Muhsin Abdul-Hassan Lazim al-Kabi, Rezai said that “participation of our Iraqi counterparts in this meeting to discuss border issues demonstrate that both countries are serious about addressing certain common issues.”
The Khasrawi crossing in western Iran and the Al-Mundhuriyah crossing in the Diyala Governorate east of Iraq are linked. This is one of the main crossing points between Iraq and Iran and it witnesses heavy traffic of goods and passengers, who are mostly Iranians visiting the holy sites in Iraq, or Iraqi citizens visiting the holy sites in Iran.
A security official in the Iraqi Interior Ministry, who asked not to be identified, said that the Iraqi-Iranian border is 1450 kilometers long and has been and still is a source of problems between the two countries. He explained that the reason is “the wrong demarcation of the border between Iraq and Iran, which has had a negative effect on Iraq in particular.” In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, he said that “the Iranian border towns have a strategic depth, whereas the Iraqi towns do not. From a military point of view, this situation is to Iran’s advantage, but to Iraq’s disadvantage.” He noted that “Iran is now demanding taking Iraqi towns after transgressing the Al-Taluk Line (the imaginary line separating the Shatt al-Arab in the middle between Iraq and Iran according to the Algiers Agreement signed in 1975.”
This Iraqi Interior Ministry official pointed out that “most of the border demarcations between Iraq and Iran and between Iraq and neighboring countries were unfairly drawn to Iraq’s disadvantage, and were deliberately demarcated to create border disputes in the region.”
Mahmud Uthman, deputy for the Kurdistan Alliance, said that the Iraqi government does not deal transparently with pending issues with Iran. In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, he stressed that “there is no transparency in the Iraqi government’s handling of pending issues with Iran, particularly because the Iraqi government does not brief us as to where the negotiations between the two countries have reached.” He added that “differences between Iraq and Iran are not limited to the issue of the military aircraft and other arms deposited in Iran since 1991, the border demarcation, the Shatt al-Arab, the security issues, or intervention in domestic affairs, but also involve what is far more important, namely the issue of water. Iran now withholds the waters of the Karun River, preventing it from flowing into the Shatt al-Arab, as it is building earthen dams in the area.”
Uthman stressed that “the strange thing is that there are no negotiations between the two countries over water or attempts to sign a water agreement as is the case with Turkey.” He pointed out that the “Iraqi National Assembly’s political role is feeble; it plays no role in domestic or foreign issues. So much so that the speaker of the National Assembly visits foreign countries without briefing the deputies on the talks he holds during his visits. The National Assembly members are supposed to learn about the important issues that that speaker discusses during his visits.” Uthman stressed that Iran “still insists on implementation of the Algiers Agreement signed in 1975,whereas Iraq has another viewpoint; most issues have not been settled as they should between the two countries.”
It is to be recalled that the Algiers Agreement, which addressed border issues between Iraq and Iran and the Shatt al-Arab problem, was signed in March, 1975between the Iraqi vice president of the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in the presence of former Algerian President Houari Boumedienne. Iraq regarded that agreement as null and void when the Iraq-Iran war erupted in 1980, but then complied with it in 1990 after the invasion of Kuwait. Under the Algiers Agreement, the Shatt al-Arab waterway flowing into the Arab Gulf was divided between the two counties according to the Al-Taluk Line, the deepest point in the waterway. In return, Iran would stop its support for the Kurds who were waging a war against the Iraqi army in the north of Iraq.