The Middle East is one of the most complicated regions in the world in terms of geopolitics. During the past several decades, its political, security, cultural, economic and social characteristics, on the one hand and the interests of foreign powers in the region, on the other hand, have led to the continuation of tensions and crises in this region. As became evident after the events of September 11, the security of the Middle East is closely linked to the global security. Thus continuation of insecurity in this region endangers the global security.

Due to the intricacy nature of the Middle East geopolitics, there is somehow interconnectedness between different security developments in the region, be it in the Palestine, Lebanon or Iraq. Therefore, establishment of regional peace and stability requires engagement and cooperation by all regional countries. The case of Iraq is no exception; past experience shows an active role of neighboring countries are essential for peacemaking in a country engulfed in crisis. Therefore, any attempt to exclude any of the major neighboring countries of Iraq, like Iran and Syria from the main process of peace building will hardly produce any favorable results.[1]

At present, with deteriorating security situation in Iraq there are questions to be addressed regarding a peaceful solution to this crisis. The turmoil in Iraq not only threatens that country's territorial integrity but that may spillover to other areas and adjacent regions. There are some key questions regarding the present situation in Iraq:

First, how critical is the situation in Iraq?

The growing violence and number of daily casualties in Iraq demonstrates a distressful situation there. Now in its fourth year, the war has claimed the lives of nearly 3000 Americans and not less than 50 thousand of Iraqi civilians. [2]

Second, what are the roots causes of the crisis in Iraq?

Sectarian clash of interest has emerged following the downfall of the Baathist regime in Iraq. It has become the worst-case scenario for the region because when the regime change came, the minority Sunnis who used to rule over a majority Shiites refused to accept a change in power, and then things went particularly bloody and badly.[3] The Coalition failed to impose a settlement on Iraq. Although the Constitution of 2005 presented a drastic shift of power and resources from the central to regional governments but it did not incorporate a balancing plan of social cohesion and equitable allocations. The growing trend of insurgency in Iraq became alarming. The number of foreign insurgents doubled in one year and stood at 5,380 in March 2006. The nationalities of the insurgents are indicative of a widespread Arab concern for the future of Iraq. Among insurgents, 22 per cent are Algerians, 16 per cent from Yemen and Syria, 12 per cent Egyptians, 11 per cent Sudanese, 10 per cent Saudis, and seven per cent other North Africans.[4] There are also all kinds of evidence that wealthy individuals in the Arabian Peninsula have been subsidizing the insurgency.

Third, which are the probable future scenarios?

Some American experts, with the knowledge of U.S. administration's foreign policy directions, believe that there is a constant risk of civil war in Iraq and eventually, if the country is going to fall apart it's likely to fall apart in the next two years. There will either be progress toward a political compromise and far better security forces at the end of the next two years, or essentially there will be very little reason to stay the course because the situation will have deteriorated so much. [5] Yet in another opinion, Iraq could remain messy for years to come, with a weak central government, a divided society, and regular sectarian violence. At worst, it will become a failed state wracked by an all-out civil war that will draw in its neighbors. [6] There is also a high risk that if Iraq finally collapses, it will be difficult to assume that other countries in the region are not going to get involved. So the potential to influence public opinion in the region along sectarian lines in pursuance of malicious policies to produce a sort of broader struggle of power and regional competition is there and should not be ignored. [7]

Fourth, where to find a solution for the present turmoil in Iraq?

Since last year many things have happened in Iraq. Unfortunately, things have not improved as everybody hoped before. To overcome the present spiral downward trend, it seems radical and decisive decisions are to be made especially by the United States. If immediate, coordinated and collective measures are not taken by the international community the situation tends to aggravate in the coming days and months.

Obviously, the events in Iraq and the future of this country could influence positively or negatively the security and stability of the Middle East and the World in a larger scale. Opportunities for state-building in Iraq during the period after the downfall of the Baathist regime in that country have been missed because of bad policies. This has led to persistent aggravation of the situation giving more ground for terrorist and insurgency activities. Deterioration of the situation in Iraq in many ways is a cause of myopic policies of the Bush administration for implementation of the Neo-conservatives plans for the region and their vision for using U.S. power to transform Iraq into a liberal democracy and to bring about radical changes in political structure of the region. That policy was doomed to fail from the beginning. Now the ultimate nightmare of the leading Neo-conservatives is that the United States may have to come to rely on Iran to help stabilize the dangerously chaotic situation in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

To many analysts, invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 was contrary to declared policies of the US administration to fight terrorism or to capture and disarm Saddam's WMD arsenal. According to those views, the real motive was the conquest of Iraq's vast oil reserves and the great geopolitical prize it offered. Ironically the recent most major threats to stability in the region, Saddam and al Qaeda, were partially created by the US and some Western powers to contain the perceived dangers of Iranian influence. It seems that now with extensive failures the US is becoming more inclined to accept Iranian influence in both Iraq and Afghanistan and to work with it. That is while, Iran from the outset perceived very positively the emergence of the new Iraq who came into power as the consequence of the downfall of the Baathist regime in Iraq. In the last four years and while Arab countries were giving cold shoulder to new order in Iraq, Iran helped the US plans for creation of Interim Government, Transitional National Assembly, constitution, elections and referendum to name a few.

The critical situation now suggests that both Iran and US should forsake their past grievances and work together for the stability of the new Iraq. This endeavor is necessary remembering the suffering of the people of Iraq and continuation of the present trend that would imply a full blown civil war and possible disintegration of Iraq. This realistic approach also implies the US should radically revise its current policy of manipulating the Sunni-Shiite fault line in the Muslim world. It is most unfortunate to watch that some people in the Bush administration are following the same policy line that Richard Nixon adopted while manipulating the Sino-Soviet split, the fundamental fault line in the Communist world, to keep the Soviets contained and off-balance in the Vietnam War. Those policy makers are apparently apt to use the fault line they perceive in the Islamic world, the Sunni-Shiite split, to manipulate the situation in Iraq. This is in pursuance of a policy that deems necessary to curtail new opportunities for Iran to become a leading Shiite power in a post-Saddam world. Thus, the administration turned to Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and enticed them into accommodation with the United States by allowing them to consider the consequences of an ascended Iran under canopy of a relationship with the United States. In this way, Washington used that vision of Iran to gain leverage in Saudi Arabia.[8]

Facing the new realties, some US scholars have suggested that the US should establish a regional forum for Iraq's neighbors akin to that used to help manage events in Afghanistan following the intervention there in 2001. Doing so would necessarily require bringing in both Iran and Syria. However, with the current US policies questions have been raised that, Would the difficulties the U.S. has increasingly been facing in Iraq set the stage for a reduction in tensions between Washington and Tehran, or would it, on the contrary, increase the likelihood of confrontation?[9]

Henry Kissinger while presenting a bleak vision for the outcome of present Bush administration's policy on Iraq, says that dramatic collapse of Iraq would have disastrous consequences for which we [the US] would pay for many years and which would bring us back, one way or another, into the region," he emphasizes that the U.S. government must enter into dialogue with Iraq's regional neighbors — including Iran — if progress is to be made in the region. [10] Kissinger's idea is supported by other analysts who say that the United States cannot address the morass in Iraq without seeing it in a regional context and … [by]… its unwillingness to hold earnest talks with Tehran - discussions that might yield positive mutual understanding and help defuse regional tensions - the US stumbles toward the disaster that would result from attacking Iran and dooms the dim prospect it has to stabilize Iraq.[11]

Thus, it is suggested that the longer the US delays dialogue with Iran, the less probable it is that other nations will come to its aid in Iraq, and the more certain it becomes that Iraq will deteriorate into all-out civil war. Policy choices become clearer once the US recognizes that a "military option" to deal with Iran is absurd. Since bombing Iran would further radicalize that country, inflame the Middle East, and set off a chain of events that might end with Islamic fundamentalists seizing power in nuclear-armed Pakistan. To avoid that catastrophe, a new direction in American policy seems inevitable. And any effort to change course in Iraq must first come to terms with Iran's ascendancy in the region. Normalizing diplomatic relations with Iran would be a bold stroke and a clear signal that the US is intent on changing its policy in the region. And it may entice US allies and nations in the region to make significant and sustained contributions to political, economic, humanitarian, and military efforts to stabilize Iraq. For that purpose, the United States clearly needs to be involving Iraq's neighbors more in trying to stabilize the security situation and the political situation there. But to do that means recognizing that some of Iraq's neighbors have interests of their own in Iraq.[12]

Iraq is facing one of the most challenging period of its history in the coming months when the negotiations for the new constitution concerning the shape of the federalism and distribution of oil revenues starts. These critical issues were postponed during the referendum in 2005 to draw in the Sunnis to that process. If the negotiations on the new constitution would fail, the Sunnis will probably abandon the political process. And, even if they continue and remain in that process, the things will turn more complicated. The Shiites since 2003 have not only resisted against the Sunni provocation and insurgency but at the same time they have actively participated in the political process. During this period they have supported American policy since they considered that would serve their interest. However, at this stage if they reach the conclusion that Washington is more interested to buy the Sunnis cooperation rather than rewarding them for their resistance against insurgencies they might abandon their present policy. This could have the immediate effect of Shiite uprising. For that to happen the Shiites need not take up arms since they enjoy an overwhelming soft power. The sheer number of the Shiite population is able to turn over the political balance in the country. The Shiites have demonstrated their power in the past and Americans are well aware of that. The Americans were hopeful that by bringing in the moderate Sunnis to the political process it would calm the Sunni insurgencies. They were not successful in that plan. With the present deadlock situation any compromise between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds without a foreign push seems to be impossible. While the US administration has spent all its political capital it has no other option to call for the assistance of Iraq's neighboring countries.

Iran with its powerful position among the Shiite majority in Iraq can play a key role as in the past in the upcoming constitutional negotiations. Tehran intermediation among different Shiite factions could prevent a clash between them which could result in more instability and erosion of central government in Baghdad. Iran has an inherent interest comparable to none for establishment of peace and security in Iraq. For instance it is widely argued that a failed state next door would hurt Iran more than America. For Iran the main strategic priority in Iraq is that the stability of the present government is ensured and that an anti-Iranian regime would not emerge again in that country. Since long term interest of Iran and the US are identical in Iraq, today the problems in Iraq provides not only a chance to both Tehran and Washington for the management of the present and looming crisis in Iraq but also to take this opportunity as a path toward normalization of their relations. The failure in this endeavor could only enhance the risk of a civil war and disintegration of Iraq with a possibility of a wider regional war.

However, it seems illogical expecting Iran to help the US in Iraq while that country is blatantly threatening to attack Iran and unless the issues that divides Iran and the US are not on the table and not ironed out beforehand through a diplomatic process.[13] Also, it is important to emphasize that expectations should not be raised to a level that this initiative might serve as a panacea for many complex and accumulated problems that Iraq faces today. Rather, it could be taken as a step in right direction for wider coordinated efforts for establishment of peace and security in that country and in conjunction with a more effective involvement of the United Nations in the process of peace-making in Iraq. Hopefully, these endeavors may ultimately facilitate the formation of the institutions needed for the establishment of a new progressive Iraq, which is incidentally the declared policy goal of both Iran and the United States.