United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Archive: All

Nasser Hadian: Iran’s Concerns about Iraq

Interview with Nasser Hadian

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Sunni group, has taken control of much of eastern Syria and, most recently, northern Iraq. What are the implications for Iran?
            Stabilizing Iraq is extremely important to Iran for a number of reasons.
            First, in the long term, Iran is concerned that the insecurity in Iraq could spillover if the situation is not controlled and contained. Iran, however, is not immediately concerned with its own border security.
      Second, Tehran basically prefers the continuation of Nouri al Maliki’s government, which is the legitimate government in Baghdad. Iran has good relations with Iraq and does not want a disruption of the post-Saddam Hussein system.  
      Third, ISIS has targeted Shiites. It is now stirring up a sectarian war in which Iran would be obliged to protect not only its own citizens in Iraq, but also Iraqi Shiites. ISIS seems to have captured territory with logistical, intelligence and material support from Saudi Arabia and other countries. So Iran feels that it has to back up the government in Baghdad. Tehran, however, does not want the conflict to escalate.
What is Iran doing to support the central Iraqi government?
            Tehran is providing political support to Baghdad but is keen to prevent the conflict from turning into a full-blown sectarian war. So it is not sending troops. Reports in the media about Iran sending soldiers are purely guesses and have been denied by top officials. But Tehran is likely helping Iraq, under the table, by offering advice about how to fight the militants, and helping with logistics and intelligence gathering. Iran probably had military advisors in Iraq before the crisis anyway.  
      President Hassan Rouhani has suggested that Iran could consider joint action with the United States. But Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani has been careful not to associate Tehran with Washington at all on this issue because he is concerned that many Sunnis in the region would consider U.S.-Iran cooperation a conspiracy of Shiites and Americans against them.
      Maliki may be able to quell ISIS if he mobilizes militias to help the Iraqi armed forces. But if Iraq cannot solve this crisis within the next two to three months, the conflict could turn into a protracted war and last for several years. And ISIS may shift its forces if it finds Maliki’s government weaker than the Assad regime, resulting in a war of attrition. The oil-rich region is also an attractive base of operations for the militants, which have already stolen $425 million from banks across Iraq.
            An ISIS shift to Iraq would also have regional implications. It would make it much easier for Assad’s forces to suppress Syrian opposition forces. Unlike Iraq’s armed forces, the Syrian Army is relatively intact. The Syrian government is holding back the opposition, which is supported by Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, and many Western nations. But the swift takeover of Mosul by ISIS showed that the Iraqi army is weak.
What are Iran’s core interests in Iraq? Do they overlap with U.S. concerns? If so, how could the two cooperate?
      Both Tehran and Washington are concerned with stabilizing Iraq and preventing the breakout of a sectarian war. They also want to ensure the safe passage of oil to international markets and preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq.
      Iran and the United States also want to see a more inclusive government in Baghdad. Even Iran would like to see the Shiites share more power with the Sunnis and Kurds to preserve the Iraqi state. Iran wants to see Kurdistan as part of Iraq, even if it continues to be an autonomous region.
      Iran’s influence in Iraq and its shared interests with the United States probably led Senator Lindsey Graham to suggest talking with Tehran about the crisis. But there is virtually no chance of publicized cooperation. The more likely scenario would be similar to U.S.-Iran cooperation in Afghanistan in 2001, when Tehran provided U.S. forces with intelligence that helped overthrow the Taliban.
            But not all U.S. interests totally align with Iran’s. Washington is likely concerned with ISIS spreading its operations to U.S. allies in the Gulf. 
Nasser Hadian is a professor of political science at the University of Tehran.
Online news media are welcome to republish original blog postings from this website in full, with a citation and link back to The Iran Primer website (www.iranprimer.com) as the original source. Any edits must be authorized by the author. Permission to reprint excerpts from The Iran Primer book should be directed to permissions@usip.org
Photo credits: President.ir and Ministry of Defense


US Treasury: Iran’s Economy Still Suffering

            On June 18, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told the U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Development Group that Iran’s economy “remains in a state of distress.” Lew also emphasized that the “temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief provided by the Joint Plan of Action has been extremely limited.” The secretary met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while in Jerusalem. The following is an excerpt from his remarks.

Secretary Jacob J. Lew 
            “Let me say a few words about Iran, and the issues that both the United States and Israel face in dealing with Iran.  It is now clear that ongoing sanctions against Iran remain in place, and that the temporary, targeted, and reversible sanctions relief provided by the Joint Plan of Action has been extremely limited.  During the same six month period, Iran is losing a significant amount in oil sales alone from the sanctions that remain in place, more than the value of the temporary relief.  Iran sanctions are the toughest the world community has imposed on any country and its economy is suffering a serious blow as a result – an impact that is not being reversed.  As we approach the last month of the agreed upon period for negotiations, Iran’s economy remains in a state of distress that brought the government to the negotiating table in the first place.  This sustained pressure gives us the opportunity to pursue a negotiated agreement with Iran, in conjunction with our P5+1 partners, that will assure the international community that Iran’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful.  Make no mistake: we will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.  We have always been clear that we will take the time to do this right, and we will not rush into a bad deal.  No deal is better than a bad deal.”

Pew: Iran Unpopular around the World

            Iran’s global image remains overwhelmingly negative one year after President Hassan Rouhani’s election, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Views of Iran in several Middle Eastern countries have particularly worsened in recent years. And about three-in-four Americans still hold unfavorable views of the Islamic Republic. Pew surveyed 40 countries between March 17 and May 25, 2014. In 29 of those nations, a majority or plurality have an unfavorable opinion of Iran. The following are excerpts from the Pew report.

      Attitudes toward Iran are mostly negative worldwide. The only nations in which at least half express a favorable view are Bangladesh (63%), Pakistan (63%) and Indonesia (51%).
      Ratings for Iran are low in the Middle East, and have been dropping steadily in recent years. In 2006, roughly half or more in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey had a positive opinion of Iran; today, fewer than one-in-five in all three countries hold this view. Similarly, Iran’s favorability rating among Palestinians has dropped from 55% in 2007 to 33% now.
      Among the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) that are engaged in ongoing nuclear talks with Tehran, public attitudes are mostly critical of Iran. Majorities in Germany, France, the United States, the United Kingdom and China give Iran an unfavorable rating. Russians are more divided, although, on balance, still mostly negative (44% favorable, 35% unfavorable).
Rouhani Unpopular
      Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is often described as less hardline than other leaders of the Iranian regime, but a year into his tenure, Rouhani receives poor marks throughout the Middle Eastern countries surveyed.
      Majorities in six nations express an unfavorable opinion of Rouhani, including roughly eight-in-ten in Jordan and Egypt and about nine-in-ten in Israel. In Tunisia, a 44%-plurality gives him a negative rating.
      When Pew Research asked the same question about then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2012, the controversial Ahmadinejad received better ratings than Rouhani does today in Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt.
Click here for more information.
Tags: Reports

Report: Internal Tensions in Iran

            Iran’s internal politics and economic situation are fraught with tension, according to data compiled by international bodies and presented by Anthony Cordesman. For example, youth unemployment is already high at some 23 percent. But nearly a quarter of Iran’s population is 14-years-old or younger, which means that generation may have an even tougher time finding employment. Iran’s government has also received poor marks for effectiveness, corruption and accountability. The following are selected excerpts from the report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Demographic Pressures

•Cumulative Growth: 80.8 Million in July 2014. (Was 16.6 million in 1950, 39.7 million when Khomeini took power. Projected to be 93.5 million in 2030, 100.5 million in 2050 (US Census Bureau)
• Youth: 0-14 years: 23.7% (male 9,834,866/female 9,350,017); 15-24 years: 18.7% (male 7,757,256/female 7,341,309)
• Employment: Over 715,000 males and 677,000 females reach job age each year in labor force of 27 million with key lacks in job skills.
•Youth Unemployment: Total: 23%. Country comparison to the world: 48th. Male: 20.2% female: 33.9% (Dated)
• Hyperurbanization: urban population: 69.1% of total population (2011); rate of urbanization: 1.25% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
• Ethnic Divisions: Persian 61%, Azeri 16%, Kurd 10%, Lur 6%, Baloch 2%, Arab 2%, Turkmen and Turkic tribes 2%, other 1%
• Dependency Ratio: Total dependency ratio: 41 % youth dependency ratio: 33.6 % elderly dependency ratio: 7.5 %
Source: CIA World Factbook, “Iran,” , June 2, 2014


Uncertain Economic Pressures
• GDP of $987.7 billion in 2013 versus $165.7 for Kuwait, $198.7 for Qatar, $927.8 for Saudi Arabia, $269.8 for UAE.
• Inflation: 42.3% in 2013.
• Budget: $66.4 billion in spending, $47.8 billion in Revenues. -4.5% GDP
• Exports: $61.22 billion (2013 est.) vs. $67.04 billion (2012 est.)
• Imports: $64.42 billion (2013 est.) vs. $70.03 billion (2012 est.)
• Current Account Balance: -$8.7 billion in 2013
• Industrial Production Growth Rate: -5.2% (2013 est.) Country comparison to
the world: 191st
• World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index: 152nd in the world
• Total Unemployment Rate: 16%, 23rd in the world (Dated)
• Population Below Poverty Line: 18.7% (Dated)
• Household Income of Consumption by Percentage Share: Lowest 10% =2.6%. Highest 10% = 29.6% GINI = 44.6 (Dated)
• Dependency Ratio: Total dependency ratio: 41 % youth dependency ratio:
33.6 % elderly dependency ratio: 7.5 %
Source: CIA World Factbook, “Iran,” , June 2, 2014
Click here for the full report.
Tags: Reports

UK to Reopen Embassy in Tehran

            On June 17, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced that Britain intends to reopen its embassy in Tehran. The embassy has been closed since demonstrators stormed it on Nov. 29, 2011 to protest new British sanctions on Iranian banks. The United Kingdom also closed the Iranian embassy in London and expelled all Iranian diplomats. The following is the full text of Hague’s statement.

      In February, I updated the House on progress in our bilateral relationship with Iran, following the appointment of non-resident Chargés d’Affaires in November 2013 (Official Report 24 February 2014 col 26). I said then that our decision to end formal protecting power arrangements was a sign of our increasing confidence in conducting bilateral business directly rather than through our Swedish and Omani intermediaries.
      Over the past four months, we have continued to expand our bilateral engagement. British and Iranian officials have paid regular visits to each other’s capitals. This has enabled us to resolve a range of practical matters concerning our embassies. And it has allowed us to discuss a broad range of issues, including areas where we and Iran have sharply differing views.
          Our two primary concerns when considering whether to reopen our embassy in Tehran have been assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions without hindrance. There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should have an Embassy in Tehran if the circumstances allowed. Iran is an important country in a volatile region, and maintaining embassies around the world, even under difficult conditions, is a central pillar of the UK’s global diplomatic approach. On Saturday I telephoned Foreign Minister Zarif to discuss the progress we have made to date and our common interest in continuing to move forward in the UK-Iran bilateral relationship.
          I have therefore now decided the circumstances are right to reopen our embassy in Tehran. There are a range of practical issues that we will need to resolve first. However, it is our intention to reopen the embassy in Tehran with a small initial presence as soon as these practical arrangements have been made. I expect the Iranian Government will similarly choose to take steps to reopen its embassy in London.
          Inevitably, the initial embassy presence will only be able to offer a limited range of services at first. For the time being, Iranians will still need to apply in Abu Dhabi or Istanbul for visas for travel to the UK. But encouraging people to people contact is an important priority and something that I hope we will be able to make progress on as the Embassy grows in size and capability over the following months.

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo