Tehran official: "Baghdad is capital of new Persian empire"

Tehran official: "Baghdad is capital of new Persian empire"
3 min read
10 March, 2015
One of Iran's top presidential advisers has made inflammatory remarks about his country's power in the region, which appear to fit with suspicions of an expansionist project in Tehran.
Iran has been accused of harbouring expansionist plans across the region [Getty]

Ali Younesi, a top adviser to Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, has described the whole Middle East region as being "Iranian".

Younesi also said that Baghdad had become the capital of a new Persian empire - leading to mixed responses in Iraq.

New empire

The presidential adviser's remarks were reported by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), which is financed in part by the Iranian government.

"Iran is once again an empire whose influence extends to Iraq and beyond," Younesi was quoted as saying. "At the moment, Iraq is the bastion of our civilisation. It is also our identity, culture and capital and this is true now as it was in the past."

Younesi appeared to be referencing the Sasanian Empire, the last great pre-Islamic Iranian empire, which occupied Iraq and made Ctesiphon - modern day Baghdad - its imperial capital.

He backed up his claim by saying that the geography between Iran and Iraq could not be divided.

"All of the Middle East is Iranian, and this region will be strongly defended because it is part of Iran," he said.

"My country plans to establish an Iranian federation in the region."

Iran has been accused of increasing its influence in the region through the recent war on the Islamic State group and support for groups which shared its interests during the Arab Spring.

Tehran is said to hold a poweful sway over both Syria and Iraq, due to its supposed financial, material and military support that have helped prop up their regimes.

     These remarks... mirror the Iranian government's ambitions to seize control of the entire region.
- Maysoon al-Damlouji, Iraqi National Coalition

Iran is also said, by critics, to have had a hand in the recent coup in Yemen by the Zaydi-Shia Houthi insurgent movement.

Iranian expansion

Maysoon al-Damlouji, spokesperson of the Iraqi National Coalition, said her movement was outraged by the statements.

"These remarks are strongly rejected and mirror the Iranian government's ambitions and plans to seize control of the entire region starting from Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and all the way to Bahrain and Yemen."

She called on Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and all "honourable" Iraqi politicians to unify their ranks and reject "Iran-triggered sectarianism".

There are reports that Iraq might complain about Younesi's comments to the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council.

This comes after Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, warned Iran was taking over Iraq and accused Iran's Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani of overseeing a military campaign by Iranian fighters in Dayala and Tikrit.

Heavy fighting has been taking place in these areas between Islamic State group fighters and Baghdad-allied troops and local militias.

General Martin Dempsey, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Tikrit campaign signalled a new level of involvement by Iran in Iraq's internal affairs.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.