I have received several emails and comments from readers wondering about Maliki's visit to Tehran and in some cases expressed worries about that visit.
Is this visit in Iraq's interest? Is it in the interest of Iraq's western allies? Does it serve the strategic goals of war on terror or the creation of a stable new middle east?
These are the common questions I heard and actually they are very similar to questions we in Iraq are discussing.
Although we are here and in direct touch with events, comprehensive answers are not easy to find. However, I will try to discuss this issue from my personal point of view and that of people I often meet and talk to.
First of all I'm not going to give this visit more importance than it deserves and I will not agree with commentators who say it has strategic dimensions.
I will rather say it was a routine visit that is part of the protocols that anyone who fills the position of PM has to observe, and it's also required by the condition of Iraq's relations with its neighbors and by the current situation in Iraq.
I will even say the trip to Tehran came a bit later than expected because Maliki visited the US, Kuwait and Jordan before he made it to Iran and all these visits are part of his effort and duty to garner support for his mission and improve his cabinet's relations with Iraq's neighbors to serve Iraq's intersts.
Maliki chose (or had) to delay his trip to Tehran more than once and I think this is due to the sensitivity of his position and because of his background which forces him to be careful before making this kind of decisions.
Now let's be objective and ask ourselves; what can the man offer Tehran and what can Tehran offer him in return?
In spite of assertions from the spokesman of the cabinet that Maliki would firmly ask Iran to stay out of Iraq's business, I didn't think or expect Maliki to deliver a tough-worded message of this sort and in the same time I'm not going to expect anything good to come from what Iran so far promised.
There's no doubt that relationships between Dawa Party (which Maliki belongs to) and Iran are good but are also different from relationships between the SCIRI or the Sadr group and Iran and Maliki realizes this difference in levels of Iranian support for different Iraqi Shia factions and he knows better than anyone the map of alliances and rivalries among these factions, so I think he will be negotiating as a PM of Iraq and not on behalf of the UIA within which Maliki is relatively less favored by Iran than other leaders. Which means he's probably ready to risk loosing some of that support because that would mean his rivals within the UIA would lose more than him or his party.
Still his demands will be stated politely and he will avoid using a tough tone and obviously he will offer guarantees to Iran that Iraq will not be part of an assault on Iran in the foreseeable future.
In fact most of this has probably already been discussed and the rest of the visit which ends today or tomorrow will be dedicated to less critical economic or political issues.
Again, I do not see in this visit, or expect from it, more than what I said above and again I want to add that I cautiously follow every visit made by any Iraqi official to any given country, be that al-Mashhadani to Syria, Zibari to Turkey or Maliki to Iran because I still believe that Iraq's current leaders are not qualified enough for their posts and they do not possess the skills they need to run positively productive negotiations necessary to preserve Iraq's interests and rights.
This problem, the lack of skills, comes from the fact that most of those leaders have had little experience in political and/or diplomatic work and this is complicated by the magnitude of the internal problems in Iraq that makes it even more difficult for those leaders to have clear vision for the future of the country or for its relationships with other countries.
Anyway, I find reassurance in the pluralism and the parliamentary system that has been established through elections and other chapters of the political change in Iraq.
This pluralism makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for anyone including the PM to monopolize the decision making process so I think there's no reason to be afraid that one politician or one faction will break or form a strategic alliance in a way that brings a disaster onto Iraq.
Maliki is only one thread in a fabric made of components that vary in their visions and attitudes and these variations are visible even within individual blocs.
Some consider Iran Iraq's first enemy while others see in Iran a close friend and ally and neither party is small.
What I'm sure of is that there are no more individuals with enough power to drag Iraq ,on their own, into disasters.
Mistakes exist with pluralism as well but these cannot be as destructive as those of dictators.