Friday, July 16, 2010

Iran Replaces Its Point Man On Iraq

Suleimani's Iraq file will be given to Iran's speaker of parliament Ali Larijani who is due to arrive in Baghdad soon to hold discussions with Iraqi politicians about forming a new government

Iraq’s al-Rafidayn newspaper recently reported that Iran’s Qods Force Commander General Qassim Suleimani was relieved from handling Tehran’s Iraq policy, and that file was given to the speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Larijani. Rafidayn claimed that Suleimani was being replaced because he failed to overcome the differences between Iraq’s Shiite parties in forming a new government. Larijani’s first mission is allegedly to bring together Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law and the Sadrist-Supreme Council led Iraqi National Alliance, so that they can name the next premier. He is supposed to work more openly in achieving Iran’s goals than behind the scenes as was Suleimani’s style.

General Suleimani took charge of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force in 1998, which is empowered to carry out its own foreign policy, and is under the direct control of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. During the Saddam period he coordinated with Iraq’s Kurdish parties and exiled Shiite parties, many of which were based within Iran. After the 2003 invasion the general believed that the United States should pay for occupying Iraq, and organized Shiite militants to achieve that goal. He brought in Lebanon’s Hezbollah to be trainers and advisers to Shiite militias, helped breakaway factions of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Madhi Army become Special Groups in 2006, and was instrumental in ending the Iraqi-U.S. crackdown on Sadr in 2008. He was also responsible for the more important political strategy of maintaining relations with Iraq’s leaders. He provided aid to the United Iraqi Alliance in Iraq’s 2005 elections, which was made up of the country’s leading Shiite parties, and helped break the deadlock over who would be the prime minister in 2006 that led to the selection of Nouri al-Maliki. More recently, he helped put together the Iraqi National Alliance made up of the Sadrists, the Supreme Council, the Iraqi National Congress, the Fadhila Party, and others for the 2010 parliamentary election, After the March vote, it was believed that Suleimani helped State of Law and the National Alliance merge together. That coalition ultimately didn’t work since so many members of the National Alliance are opposed to Maliki retaining the premiership. That ultimately led to Suleimani being relieved of his Iraq responsibilities.

General Suleimani’s replacement, Speaker Ali Larijani has been an advocate of Tehran’s shift towards a more political stance towards Iraq. In 2008 it was reported that he was an opponent of Tehran’s support for Sadr and his militia, and instead advocated for backing the Iraqi government. In 2009 he worked with Suleimani to push Iraq’s Shiite parties to run together in the 2010 vote. According to al-Rafidayn, that will be his main priority now that he is in charge of Iran’s Iraq policy, and he is due to arrive in Iraq shortly to hold discussions with Iraq’s politicians. 

Iran continues to play a large role within Iraq, although its goals are becoming more difficult to attain. While Iran still supports Shiite militants, today it is much more focused upon shaping the next Iraqi government. That has always been Tehran’s top priority as it is determined to make sure that Baghdad is never a threat again, and that friendly Shiite parties rule the country. General Suleimani managed this policy for over a decade, and is now going to be replaced by Speaker Larijani. That’s symbolic of Iran’s current emphasis upon politics and Iraq’s 2010 election. He will have his work cut out for him as the Shiite lists have fractured, and are more concerned about getting their own man into the premiership than working together or giving into Iranian pressure. That shows that while Teheran will continue to have close ties to many of Iraq’s leader, they are beginning to focus upon their own concerns, which lessons what Iran can achieve.


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