Friday, July 17, 2009

Iran’s Role In The Revival Of The United Iraqi Alliance

On July 16, 2009 Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Moqtada al-Sadr visited Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in his Tehran hospital. Sadr said he was interested in rejoining the United Iraqi Alliance, which the Sadrists left in September 2007. The new alliance is due to be announced later this month according to a Supreme Council member. In February 2009 Sadr issued a statement saying that he would come back to the Alliance as long as it was renamed, the SIIC was no longer leading it, and that it was non-sectarian. Those talks fell apart in May when the Sadrists said they would run independently in the January 2010 parliamentary vote. The change in the Sadrists' position could be due to the influence of Iran, which is applying strong pressure upon the leading Shiite parties to re-unite and run together in the next round of balloting in Iraq.

One of the main goals of Tehran is to ensure friendly Shiite rule in Iraq so that it never becomes a rival again. Following this Iran wants the main Shiite parties to be united during elections, so they stay in power. In 2005 Iran helped put together the United Iraqi Alliance, and gave them printing presses, advisors, broadcast equipment, and stuffed ballot boxes. Since the January 2009 provincial elections, Iran has been pushing for the Alliance to be revived. In January, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ran his own State of Law List, which trumped the Supreme Council in most of southern Iraq. Iran was afraid of further fracturing by the Shiites, and began pressuring them to run together in 2010.

Iranian officials began traveling to Iraq shortly after the provincial vote. On February 11, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki came to Baghdad to mediate between the estranged Dawa Party and SIIC. On March 2 Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, the head of Iran’s Expediency Council came to Iraq for five days. He was followed by the speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Larijani who came at the end of that month.

Domestic Iraqi politics also played into this Iranian policy. In early 2009 the Supreme Council and their allies in parliament were threatening a no confidence vote against Maliki. The Prime Minister was forced to reach out to them to stop this from happening. Their price was for Maliki to rejoin the United Alliance. This appealed to Maliki, because if he was given the leadership position in the list it could help his chances of maintaining his office. The SIIC was also hoping to ride Maliki’s coattails back into power after their loses in the provincial councils. There is still a lot of mistrust between the two, but mutual ambition appears to be bringing them back together with ample pressure from Tehran.

May 2009 saw a renewed drive by Tehran and SIIC leader Hakim to get the Shiite parties back together. On May 13, Hakim publicly announced that he wanted the United Alliance reformed. The chairman of the SIIC Humam Hammudi was given responsibility for re-organizing the List, while Ahmad Chalabi was tasked with bringing back the old members of the Alliance.

Most of the negotiations for the revival of the Alliance occurred in Hakim’s Tehran hospital where he is undergoing cancer treatment. On May 14 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Hakim. Six days later Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the National Reform Trend and Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari came to Hakim’s hospital. Hakim also met with Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization. At the end of the month Maliki flew to Tehran to consul with Hakim. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mottaki was present. Maliki then met with Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei who also pressured him on the United Alliance.

These moves have apparently paid off for Iran for now. On June 19, al-Hayat reported that Maliki and the SIIC had agreed to revive the United Iraqi Alliance. It would now be called the Coalition of the State of Law, and the Prime Minister would be its leader. Sadr’s meeting with Hakim this month, almost completes the original line-up of the Alliance. If these parties do run together it would be a big victory for Iran’s policy, and a step backwards for Iraq. In the 2009 vote, Iraqi nationalism made a revival. The re-birth of the United Alliance would be a return to the sectarian politics of the past. Early reports that the new election law will also maintain the 2005 closed list system where voters only get to vote for lists and not individual candidates is another sign that the major parties are more interested in maintaining their positions rather than advancing the country’s interests. The leading Shiite parties also do not seem to have any problems with playing along with Iran, as long as it helps them win.

SOURCES

Allam, Hannah, Landay, Jonathan, and Strobel, Warren, “Is an Iranian general the most powerful man in Iraq?” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/28/08

Alsumaria, “Al Sadr agrees to reengage in Coalition,” 7/16/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Elections draft law completed without agreeing on Kirkuk – MP,” 7/15/09

Barzegar, Kayhan, “Iran’s Foreign Policy in Post-invasion Iraq,” Middle East Policy Council Journal, Winter 2008

Domergue, Jeremy and Cochrane, Marisa, “Balancing Maliki,” Institute for Understanding War, June 2009

Elkhamri, Mounir, “Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, January 2007

Gwertzman, Bernard, “Iraq at Crossroads Amid U.S. Disengagement,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/30/09

Kaplow, Larry, “Iraq Steps Out of Iran’s Shadow,” Newsweek, 6/6/09

Mohsen, Amer, “Iraq Papers Sat: The I’tilaf is Back!” IraqSlogger.com, 6/19/09
- “Iraq Papers Wed: Oil Contracts in Jeopardy,” IraqSlogger.com, 6/16/09

Parker, Ned, “Sadr’s bloc quits Iraq’s ruling coalition,” Times of London, 9/16/07

Press TV, “Iraq’s Maliki at Hakim’s bedside in Tehran,” 5/31/09

Al-Sharqiyah Television, “Iraq roundup: Al-Sadr Trend mediates in Ninawa; security incidents,” BBC Monitoring Service, 6/14/09
- “’Special groups’ leaders arrested in Iraq; political, security roundup,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 6/15/09
- “US troops start withdrawal from Al-Sadr City; Iraq roundup,” BBC Monitoring International Reports, 5/29/09

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