When the Accountability and Justice Commission that took over form the old deBaathification Commission banned 511 candidates from Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary vote, the U.S. was quick to blame the move on Iran. On January 27 for example, General David Petraeus accused the Accountability Commission of working at the behest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The next month the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno said that the two heads of the Commission Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami were working with Iran as well. Later on February 25, the U.S. military leaked a report to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about Iran’s support for parties in the election. The paper said that the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, which is responsible for their foreign operations including Iraq, pushed for the formation of the Iraqi National Alliance, which is made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party, the Iraqi National Congress, and former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The Americans claimed that Iran was paying $9 million a month to the Supreme Council and $8 million to the Sadrists to help with their campaigning. They said that Iran had a hit list of 600 Iraqis that fought in the Iran-Iraq War that it wanted eliminated as well. Chalabi and Lami responded by saying that the U.S. was trying to bring Baathists back into power and denied any Iranian influence. The two also didn’t need Tehran to tell them to go after the nationalist and secular candidates. Either way, the war of words between Washington and Tehran seemed to be on.
Two other reports have surfaced however that questions whether Iran is that interested in the daily affairs of Iraq right now. The police chief in Maysan province for example, told Newsweek in February 2010 that Qods Force members use to visit the governorate every month, but now haven’t visited in 6-7 months. The police chief believed that Iran’s internal problems with suppressing its opposition after their June 2009 presidential elections had distracted Tehran from working within Iraq. General Petraeus supported that view during a recent speech in Washington where he said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had turned to the Revolutionary Guards and their Qods Force for support and security after the Iranian voting, sucking them into internal politics.
The truth of the matter of Iran’s current role in Iraq is probably somewhere in between these stories. Iran is definitely supporting Shiite parties in Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary voting as it always has, and did help put together the National Alliance. That suits its main goal, which is a Shiite run government in Baghdad that will be friendly to Tehran and never become a rival again. After Iraq’s voting is finished on March 7, Iran will likely push for the Alliance and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law to mend fences and form a ruling coalition again. That being said, the regime in Tehran is facing a major internal crisis with its public after its own presidential balloting. The Revolutionary Guards were originally formed to protect the Islamic government, and would thus naturally be asked to help in a time like the present to shore up the leadership. It could still be supporting its friends in Iraq without being intimately involved in day-to-day affairs there as it was in the past. Either way, Tehran will continue to play a leading role in Iraq as it has supporters amongst many of the country’s leading parties, is one of the largest trade partners with Iraq, and is the main supplier of religious tourism and students to holy sites in Baghdad, Najaf, and Karbala. Even with its own political problems, Iran will still have these hard and soft power levers to influence events in Iraq.
Alsumaria, “Petraeus: Justice and Accountability manipulated by Iranian Quds Force,” 1/27/10
Dehghanpisheh, Babak, Barry, John and Dickey, Christopher, “Rebirth of a Nation,” Newsweek, 3/8/10
Dickey, Christopher, “The Sandman Cometh,” Newsweek, 3/4/10
Ignatius, David, “Tehran’s Vote Buying in Iraq,” Washington Post, 2/25/10
Pessin, Al, “US Commander Says Iran Planned Political Dispute in Iraq,” Voice of America, 2/16/10
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