Iraj Masjedi is Iran’s new ambassador to Iraq. Photo: FNA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish officials have expressed optimism over Iran’s new ambassador to Baghdad, describing him as a moderate deal-broker who could play a “constructive role” in bridging the widening divisions among Iraqi factions after the anticipated demise of ISIS in the country.
Iraj Masjedi, 60, was appointed as ambassador of the Islamic Republic to Baghdad last week, replacing Hasan Danayifar who led the influential embassy in the country since early 2011.
Both Danayifar and Masjedi, and also Iran’s first ambassador to Baghdad Hasan Kazemi Qomi, have been members of the Quds Force, a special armed wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responsible for their extraterritorial operations.
“The appointment of Masjedi shows the significance of Iraq, the Kurdistan Region and the country’s political factions for the Islamic Republic,” said Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) representative to Tehran, Nazim Dabagh.
“It is of course not a secret that Mr. Masjedi was appointed to carry out Iran’s policies in Iraq in a better fashion,” Dabagh added.
The new ambassador will likely face a more divided country as Iraq heads towards elections early next year with both Sunnis and Kurds increasingly distancing themselves from Baghdad and accusing Iraq’s mainly Shiite-led government of discrimination.
But the Kurdish officials say Masjedi’s past efforts to successfully mediate between rivalling parties could give the Iranian ambassador a new role in Iraq.
“He is seen as a more moderate figure within the Quds force and could have a positive impact on ties between Erbil and Tehran,” said Abdulla Akrayi, who is in charge of KRG relations to neighboring Iran.
“He has been in touch with the Kurdish people for the past 30 years,” Akrayi added.
Relations between the Kurdistan Region and Iran have remained strained over the past years with the Kurdish president cancelling an anticipated visit to Tehran last year. The Islamic Republic has publicly criticised Erbil for allowing Saudi Arabi, Iran’s regional rival, to open a consulate in Erbil.
“Masjedi was a successful mediator between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in the 1990s,” said Bilal Sulaiman, a Kurdish party official who has previously served in Tehran and hopes for better ties after Masjedi’s appointment.