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Iran's Debate Over Iraq

No country in the Middle East is monitoring postwar events in Iraq more closely than Iran. Geographical proximity, an intense and bloody history of conflict with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, religious and emotional connections to Shi'a Iraq, and concerns about the United States and its policies in the region are all threads that tie Iran to its western neighbor. Given ongoing tensions with America, Iran is particularly concerned with the likelihood of a continuing US presence next door, as well as with America's dominant role in shaping Iraq's post-Saddam future.

Outsiders may find it difficult to follow internal Iranian debates, but they do exist, and they are intense, even if they are not always visible to the wider international public. Three general approaches are recognizable in the evolving Iranian debate on post-Saddam Iraq.

Iranian pragmatists argue that Iran must inevitably cooperate with the US in post-Saddam Iraq, if only to ensure the rights of Iraq's Shi'a population. For this reason, Iran should win assurances that a new leadership in Iraq will not be hostile to it, and will seek friendly bilateral relations.

Other vital considerations for the pragmatists include preserving Iraq's territorial integrity and repatriation of tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees living in Iran. These moderates think that Iran's government should press America for extradition of Iraq-based members of the Mujahdin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), as well as its total dismantling.