Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Shamkhani arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for a two-day visit said to be focused on coordinating efforts to combat the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
But the timing of Shamkhani’s visit suggests he is seeking to bridge the divide that has divorced the Shiite bloc from unity in Iraq. The Middle Eastern country’s crisis deepened with Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi withdrawing his candidacy for the post.
Shamkhani is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since the killing of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, near the Baghdad International Airport in early January.
Observers believe that Shamkhani is in Baghdad to compensate for the absence of Soleimani who, for years, had played a prominent role in unifying the positions of the Shiite parties on important and divisive issues in Iraq.
Iraqi MP Abdallah al-Kharbeet told Rudaw that it is normal for officials of countries to pay visits.
“We have many issues with Iran, in addition to the role that Iraq can play as a mediator between Iran on the one hand, and the West and Arab countries on the other hand,” Kharbeet said.
Noting that the reason behind Shamkhani’s visit remains unknown, Kharbeet said that if it’s in the abovementioned context then it is positive and welcomed.
“It is unacceptable if the visit is part of meddling with the political affairs inside Iraq, or trying to impose solutions for the candidate for prime minister,” Kharbeet explained.
Political analyst Hisham al Hashmi tweeted: “Shamkhani came to fill gaps in the political file caused by Soleimani's absence.”
Foreign influence on post-2003 Iraqi government formation looks unlikely to end with Iranian state media outlet IRNA reporting that Shamkhani will be meeting Iraq’s three presidencies – caretaker prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, President Barham Salih, and parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi.
Shamkhani will also meet Iraqi political party leaders to discuss cabinet formation, IRNA added.