Iran tries to mend fences with Iraq

THE Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Velayati, is to visit Baghdad, according to Iranian diplomats, although the visit is not expected to presage an Iranian-Iraqi axis.

At a meeting last week in New York the Iranian and Iraqi foreign ministers decided that a senior Iranian diplomat should go to Baghdad to hold talks. The move, heralding the willingness of Iran and Iraq to normalise relations, was hailed by the tightly-controlled press in Iran. In an editorial the Tehran Times, which usually reflects official thinking, urged Tehran and Baghdad to 'get together, form and lead an anti-US front'.

The radical daily Salam declared: 'Iraq is our natural ally in the region. Iranian-Iraqi co-operation is frightening to both the Americans and the area's reactionary regimes. As the flag-bearer of the independent, anti-imperialist nations of the world, Islamic Iran has the duty to show courage and bravery to make the first steps towards reconciliation with Iraq, regardless of its record of aggression and animosity against Iran. All those combating the shameful PLO-Israel agreement are Iran's friends and it's up to us to unite them in an international anti-US front.'

Many issues divide Tehran and Baghdad, including the question of Iraqi warplanes and civilian aircraft sent to Iran during the Gulf war; prisoners of war from the Iran-Iraq conflict; Iranian support for anti-Iraqi dissidents and Iraqi support for anti-Iranian movements; compensation for war damage and border disputes.

Most analysts consider the differences too great for the establishment of a formal pact now. Not only has too much blood been spilt but Iran continues to support Shia rebels in southern Iraq.

However, relations between Iran and Iraq will be closely monitored by other countries, particularly the United States and the nations of the Arabian Peninsula.