The meeting between the senior adviser to the speaker of the Majlis with the Syrian ambassador to Tehran. ( Website of the Majlis, April 8 2021)
Esmail Qa’ani, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force. ( al-Alam, April 6 2021 )
The meeting between the Iraqi national security adviser and the secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council( ISNA, April 12 2021)
The secretary general of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (second on the left) in a meeting with senior Iraqi Shia clerics and the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad. Source: the website of the Forum, April 8
In mid-April, the senior adviser to the Iranian minister of foreign affairs met with the special envoy of the Russian president to the Middle East and with the UN special envoy to Syria and discussed developments in Syria, and particularly the negotiations concerning the settlement of the war.
Iranian news websites reported that the wife of the Syrian president, Asmaa’ al-Assad, recently acted to stop the activities of private companies in Syria that are linked to Iranian investors. According to this report, whose reliability is unclear, the president’s wife moves were carried out in coordination with the Russian embassy in Damascus and are intended to reduce Iran’s involvement in Syria’s economy.
On April 5-6, the commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) visited Iraq and met with senior Iraqi officials and heads of parties and political blocs in the country. His visit was conducted against the backdrop of another round of the strategic dialogue between Iraq and the United States, which was held last week. The Associated Press news agency reported that in parallel to this visit, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, sent a stern message to Iran, demanding that Tehran restrain the pro-Iranian militias operating in his country.
On April 12, the Iraqi national security adviser arrived for a visit in Tehran, during which he met with the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, the minister of defense and minister of foreign affairs of Iran. The Iranian officials stressed in their meeting with the high-ranking Iraqi official the need to expedite the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The issue of the American pullout from Iraq was also discussed in a phone call, held on April 14, between the Iranian and Iraqi presidents, on the occasion of the start of the month of Ramadan.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
On April 8, the Adviser on Foreign Affairs to the Speaker of the Majlis, Hossein-Amir Abdollahian met with the Syrian Ambassador to Tehran, Shafik Dayoub. Abdollahian condemned the American sanctions imposed on Syria, labeling them “economic terrorism.” He declared that Syria is at the forefront of the “Resistance Front” and that Iran will continue to stand by Syria, the Syrian people and the Syrian leadership. He called for bolstering parliamentary cooperation between the two countries and remarked that soon parliamentary delegations from both countries will exchange visits between Tehran and Damascus. The Syrian ambassador expressed full support for Iran’s stance in the negotiations concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal) and its demand for a complete lifting of economic sanctions levied against it. He also thanked Iran for its unyielding support for Syria (ISNA, April 8).
On April 13, Ali-Asghar Khaji, the Senior Adviser of the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, met with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Envoy of the Russian President to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, and discussed developments in Syria and Yemen. The two discussed the ongoing negotiations concerning the settlement of the war in Syria (Tehran Times, April 13). On April 15, Khaji met with the UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, and discussed the talks in the political track focused on ending the war in Syria, and the discussions of the constitutional committee (Tasnim, April 15).
Rostam Qasemi, the former Iranian Minister of Oil during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressed in an interview to Iranian television the Iranian investments in Syria and Iraq. He remarked that in Iraq, Iran’s intervention did not cost anything, while in Syria, Iran received a compensation for its expenses through “thousands of billions of tonnes” of phosphates that Syria is supposed to provide to Iran as part of a deal signed between the two countries (Asr-e Iran, April 9). A commentary published on the website Asr-e Iran (April 10) criticized the statements of the former minister, stating that the data he provided concerning the amount of phosphates in Syria are baseless and that the amount of phosphates in mines worldwide is merely 65 billion tonnes, and 50 billion of them are under Moroccan soil. The website quoted a statement from the Syrian minister of oil who reported that the amount of phosphates on Syrian soil adds up to merely three billion tonnes. In addition, under agreements Syria signed with Russian and Serbian companies, Syria is obligated to provide them with millions of tonnes of phosphates per year. The only deal signed between Iran and Syria in June 2018 concerning Iranian investments in the phosphate mines in Syria, is yet to be realized. Following the criticism, Qasemi corrected himself. In a tweet on his Twitter account (April 10), the former minister of oil clarified that in accordance with the strategic agreement between Tehran and Damascus, Syria is supposed to provide over a billion (one thousand million) tonnes of phosphates to Iran, and not the number he erroneously mentioned during the interview (one thousand billion).
Iranian news websites reported that the wife of the Syrian president, Asmaa’ al-Assad, moved against Iranian economic interests in the country. According to this report, whose reliability is unclear, the wife of the Syrian president issued an order to dissolve a number of private companies and stop their activity in Syria, and asked to carry out financial and legal audits of these companies, which are linked to Iranian investors. The first lady justified the instruction by mentioning international sanctions placed on these companies. According to the report, the companies whose work was halted are Bunyan Dimashq, al-Bunyan, Ermitaj al-Omran and Qala’I, which are all connected to the Iranian embassy in Damascus. The report also claimed that the steps taken by Asmaa’ al-Assad were carried out in coordination with the Russian embassy in Damascus and are intended to decrease Iran’s clout in Syria’s economy (Aftab News, April 10).
The pro-opposition Syrian news outlet Deir Ezzor 24 reported (April 13) that the IRGC is working to recruit local Syrians who defected from the ranks of the Syrian opposition and regularized their status (“reconciled”) with the Syrian regime. According to this report, whose reliability is unclear, the recruitment office is located at the old building of the educational directorate in Deir Ezzor. The new recruits obtain greater benefits than they would receive had they gone to serve in the Syrian Army: their service for the IRGC will be recognized as part of the duration of their compulsory military service, they will operate only in the environs of Deir Ezzor, they will serve only 15 days every month, they will obtain a monthly salary of 90,000 Syrian liras, and food baskets.
Iranian Involvement in Iraq
The Iranian television channel in Arabic, al-Alam, reported (April 6) that the Commander of the Qods Force, Esmail Qa’ani, conducted a visit to Iraq, on April 5-6, during which he met with senior Iraqi officials, and leaders of political parties and blocs, and discussed expanding bilateral ties between Iran and Iraq and other regional issues. No additional details were provided concerning the visit and the issues under discussion.
The website al-Araby al-Jadeed reported (April 7) based on a political source that Qa’ani’s meetings in Baghdad were largely focused on the strategic dialogue between Iraq and the United States held last week. According to the source, Qa’ani stressed that the demand for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq must be the central issue under discussion in the dialogue. Meanwhile, the AP news agency reported (April 7) citing two senior Iraqi sources, that against the backdrop of Qa’ani’s visit in Baghdad, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kazimi, conveyed a stern message to Iran, demanding that it restrain the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. According to this report, al-Kazimi also threatened to use force against the armed groups, and clearly identify their foreign sponsor if their attacks on American targets in Iraq persist.
On April 12, the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Qassim al-Araji, arrived for a visit in Tehran, at the invitation of the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Ali Shamkhani. During his visit, al-Araji met with Shamkhani and the two discussed bilateral relations and regional and international developments. During the meeting, Shamkhani declared that the United States is the central cause for instability and organized terrorism in the region, and that accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq will increase the region’s stability. He expressed concern about the reinvigoration of elements connected to ISIS in Iraq, and blamed the United States of supporting those elements, in an effort to prepare the ground for maintaining U.S. military presence in the country. Shamkhani also called for bolstering coordination between Tehran and Baghdad against the activities of “anti-revolutionary and terrorist elements” in northern Iraq, and for greater cooperation in the struggle to fight networks smuggling weaponry and drugs across borders.
The Iraqi national security adviser praised Iran’s role in establishing stability and security in the region, as well as its involvement in the fight against terrorism, and stressed the need to bolster cooperation between the two countries. He remarked that the Iraqi government is committed to implementing the law passed by the Iraqi parliament concerning the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq. He added that there are ongoing talks between Iraq and the countries maintaining a military presence in the country, concerning setting an agreed-upon timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops (Tasnim, April 12). During his visit in Tehran, the Iraqi national security adviser also met with the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and with the Minister of Defense, Amir Hatami (Fars, April 12). Hatami conveyed to al-Ariji that the withdrawal of American forces will help bolster the stability and security in Iraq and called for expanding security cooperation between Iran and Iraq (Mehr, April 13).
On April 14, the Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani, spoke on the phone with the Iraqi President, Barham Salih, and congratulated him on the occasion of the start of the holy month of Ramadan. Rouhani stressed Iran’s support for the stability, security, independence and territorial integrity of Iraq, and declared that Iran sees Iraq’s security as its own and opposes any foreign meddling in Iraq’s domestic affairs. He remarked that the security of the region ought to be safeguarded by the countries of the region. Rouhani added that the Americans have always played a destructive role in the region, and that their presence did not contribute to bringing about peace and stability. The Iranian president also called for implementing the economic agreements signed between Iraq and Iran, including completing laying the railway connecting Shalamcheh in western Iran to Basra ins southern Iraq. The Iraqi president describe the relations between the two countries as “strategic” and stressed the need to bolster them in all fields, and particularly in the economic and commercial spheres. He remarked that the Iraqi government is determined to implement the decision to end foreign presence in the country, and that it will continue to hold sessions of the strategic dialogue with the United States on this matter, until the final result is achieved (Khabar Online, April 14).
On April 10, the Iranian Minister of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, Mohammad Shariatmadari, arrived for a three-day visit in Iraq. On the eve of his visit, the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad, Iraj Masjedi, stated that the minister is expected to sign a five-year bilateral cooperation agreement and discuss various issues, including exchanges of delegations and experts, vocational training, entrepreneurship, labor relations and social matters. During his visit in Baghdad, Shariatmadari met with the Iraqi Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Adel al-Rikabi, and with the Minister of Finance, Ali Alawi. The Iraqi minister of finance vowed to Shariatmadari that Iraq’s debts to Iran for the supply of electricity and gas will be paid soon. During his visit in Iraq, the minister also visited southern Iraq, including the city of Karbala, considered holy by Shia Muslims (IRNA, April 10-11).
On April 7, Hojjat-ul-Islam Hamid Shahriari, the General Secretary of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, arrived for a visit in Iraq, during which he met with local senior officials, clerics and politicians. The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (Majma’-e Jahani-ye Taqrib-e Mazaheb-e Eslami) operates out of the Office of the Supreme Leader of Iran, and holds intra-Islamic conferences and activities intended to promote dialogue between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
During a meeting with the senior Shia cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Mehdi Karbalaei, Shahriari called for dialogue between Sunni and Shia clerics to promote Islamic unity in the face of the efforts of colonialism to bring about a split between the nations of Islam. In a meeting with the senior Shia cleric, Ayatollah Seyyed Muhammad Taqi Modarresi, Shahriari addressed the central role of senior Shia clerics in strengthening Iraqi national unity, and stressing the independence and sovereignty of Iraq, while confronting the efforts of terrorists, cells affiliated with remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime and their supporters to launch a sectarian war in the country. During the visit, the secretary general of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought also met with tribal leaders and senior officials in the Shia-majority city of Karbala and stressed the need to maintain Iraq’s unity. He claimed that the United States and Zionism tried to partition Iraq through infiltration and creating fissures between the different communities in the country, by the Iraqi people foiled their efforts, owing to its unity. He stressed that after the eradication of ISIS, the Iraqi people, more than ever, need to ensure unity to preserve the security and stability of their country (IRNA, April 9).