Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September 25th, 2009

Muhammad Rida Baghban, Consul Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 25 September 2009 13:40

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Consular affairs are sometimes considered the most boring aspect of international diplomacy. Not so, however, in Basra. Its Iranian consul, in particular, seems to have a wide-ranging field of activity. Put briefly, his authority seems to go somewhat beyond issuing emergency passports to pilgrims on their way to Iraq’s holy Shiite shrines.

A recent episode illustrates this point. Earlier this week, the head of the Daawa-led Basra provincial council announced that a solution for Basra’s freshwater crisis was in the making. Specifically, he had signed a deal with Iran’s consul in Basra, Muhammad Rida Baghban, according to which Iran will supply Fao with 1,000 tons of drinking water on a daily basis to compensate for changes the Iranians made to the river flow of the Karun (which empties fresh water into the Shatt al-Arab near the head of the Gulf and thereby affects the saline content of the water.) The water supplies will be shipped to Basra by Iranian vessels.

Whereas the vast range of political activities of the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Hasan Kazimi Qummi, have been the subject of much speculation, there has been less focus on Baghban in Basra. However, Baghban, too, reportedly has a revolutionary guard background, and like Qummi he often seems to be able to intervene in politics at a rather high level. Last January, his attempts to enter a polling station in Basra during the local elections caused much consternation locally as well as in Baghdad. In 2008, shortly before Maliki’s security sweep in Basra, he advocated in a media interview that local authorities should be better armed to deal with the security challenges.

The episode in Basra also illustrates how Iraq’s governorates increasingly deal with outside forces on their own, not necessarily coordinating with Baghdad. Just a week ago there was talk of a Basra delegation travelling to Iran to settle the water issues. Similarly, most other local councils in Iraq have embarked on unilateral investment discussions with foreign powers. Many of these activities may have been initiated with the best possible intentions on both sides, but their net effect is often forgotten: they tend to further weaken Iraq’s already fragile central government as an institution. But on this issue, both Iran and Western countries seem to follow the same course.

Posted in Iranian influence in Iraq, Iraqi constitutional issues | 3 Comments »