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Iraq's Pot of Instability Still Simmering
Political Divisions, Iranian Influence, Keep Future Uncertain for Iraq
By SADOUN AL-JANABI 11/29/2007 12:19 PM ET
Iraqi Shiites march through Baghdad's impoverished district of Sadr City in a show of support for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, 24 November 2007.
WISSAM AL-OKAILI/AFP/Getty
Iraqi Shiites march through Baghdad's impoverished district of Sadr City in a show of support for radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, 24 November 2007.

Iraq's political clock is ticking past the minutes. Old enemies are becoming friends and political partners are divided. New facts come to light every day regarding Iranian meddling in Iraq's internal affairs. The Iranians do not even try to hide it; the Iranian President admitted that Iran is ready to fill the political vacuum in Iraq if the US withdraws. After decades, the tribal influence over political life has reverted to old days that Iraqis had forgotten. Al-Sadr has ordered his followers to freeze the military operations of Al-Mahdi Army, and schisms plague relations between Shiites groups and also among Sunnis. Against this backdrop, Iraq is struggling to pull itself out of violent instability.

Hunting Iranian-Backed Militias

Diwaniya has for days been the scene for raids by the American troops alongside the Iraqi Army, arresting dozens of armed militia members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Al-Mahdi Army and recovering an estimated ten tons of explosives. The number of those apprehended reportedly exceeds two hundreds.

The Americans also arrested four suspects thought responsible for the explosion last Friday in Al-Ghazel “Pets” Market in downtown Baghdad, which took the lives of 13 and caused the injuries of 57, alongside dozens of birds, chickens, and other animals. After interrogations, the Americans accused Iranian-backed militias of being behind the blast, as General Gregory Smith said in his press briefing.

On Monday, Nov. 26, the Iraqi Army arrested a commander of one militia cell, who was implicated in the killing of the governor and police chief of Diwaniya in Qadissiya Province and accused of links to Iranian Itillaat.

Al-Qadissiya Province is not the only Province where the Iranians appear to have a thumb in the mix through militias unleashed to carry out criminal attacks against innocents. All the southern Provinces suffer from the same bad effects. The tense climate that other provinces like Basra, Muthana, Meisan, Dhiqar, Babylon, Najaf and Kerbala suffer has led tribes in the Iraq's center and south--Shiites and Sunnis alike—to combine their voices in dismay at the Iranian role in Iraq’s internal affairs. They stress that such interference breaches Iraq's sovereignty and constitutes a growing danger to Iraq's territorial integrity. They accuse the Iranian Al-Quds Force of being behind the unrest and call on the UN to dispatch a fact-finding mission to probe the resulting impact of such interventions.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Nov.21, the Gathering of the Independent National Tribes denounced the interventions of the Iranian regime in Iraq. Three hundred thousand citizens of Iraq’s southern provinces signed the statement, including 14 religious figures, 1250 legal professionals, 2200 physicians, engineers and university professors, and 25 women. This huge voice of protest spoke amid harsh verbal exchanges between the official speaker of the Iraqi Government (Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh) and the spokesman of Iran's Foreign Ministry (Mohammad Ali Husseini).

Dr. Al-Dabbagh was quoted as accusing Iran of not exerting efforts to support the security situation in Iraq. In his response, Al-Husseini described such claims as baseless and advised Al-Dabbagh to avoid what he called ' worthless statements '. Al-Dabbagh shot back that Al-Husseini’s statement lacked diplomacy and such discussions should resort to diplomatic channels instead of press statements.

The Iranian Role

The Iranian role has been evident in the south of Iraq, where the vast majority of Iraq’s oil reserves are located. Iran has long played a role in Iraq, but the vanity of the Iranian President (Mahmoud Ahmedinajad) has gone too far and too open. He recently told a visiting Iraqi delegation that, "Iran, Syria and Islamic states are capable of filling the vacuum that would result from an American troops withdrawal. " The next day Iranian officials denied that he had made such a statement.

The surprise came from Baghdad when the official Iraqi satellite channel Al-Iraqia on Nov.13,2007 broadcast an interview with the top Shiite clerk Sayyid Ammar Al-Hakim, son of the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Sayyid Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim. Sayyid Ammar began first talking about local issues and after that opened it up for questions from journalists.

One asked about what the Iranian President had said about filling the vacuum, and Sayyid Ammar answered, "It is better to ask the Iranian President about that. I am not going to interpret his words." But he then went on to add, "From what I have heard from a member of the Iraqi delegation who was present in Iran at the President's audience, it seemed that what he said was part of a dialogue with the Iraqi delegation." He summarized that Ahmadinejad had essentially said, "Islamic and Arab countries and the countries of the Region could help in arranging the situation in Iraq." Sayyid Ammar added this was not something new because the Arab League has had a similar notion in this same respect.

“The Iranians are in Iraq, " he assured the journalists, "but as visitors like any other visitors visiting other countries.” He explained that "every day some 2500 Iranian visitors enter Iraq from the south. Of course to visit the holiest Shia Shrines in Iraq. This means the Iranians are here, but as visitors."

Talking about the same topic but answering a different question about the Iranian intelligence intervention in Iraq, Hakim said: "We hear talks to this effect, but what the government information has confirmed refuted such allegations. But we do understand that countries look for their interests especially through intelligence elements,” later adding that, “We do understand that neighboring countries have their own interests."

As for the relations of the SIIC with Iran, he answered with anger, "Whoever say that is ignorant," adding, "We do not have the right to base our policies stemming from the interests of the others. Rather, we base our policies from the interests of the Iraqi people.... True, we have resided in Iran for a long, time but this does not mean that we are non-Arabs, but Safawis (i.e. non-Arab Muslims), he explained, concluding, "We work with transparency and clarity when we opened-up relations with countries like Iran, Turkey, the USA and others. When we deal with them we do that in the open because this is in Iraq's interests and not others' interests, i.e. we should not establish our relations with Iran in isolation from our relations with the other countries." He concluded by saying: "All Iraqis are national and patriotic people."

Commenting on the American accusations to the effect that Iran or Iranian-backed militias were behind the Al-Ghazel Market explosion, the leader of the SIIC, Sayyid Abdul Aziz Al-Hakim said this past Monday that "such accusations needs concrete evidence."

These struggles hold Iraq's future in the balance, especially considering the heated discussions in the US Congress and the repeated calls for troop withdrawals from Iraq. Moreover, all political parties are at odds concerning amendments to the Constitution, the tribal “Awakening Councils” and their future role in Iraq’s governance, the implementation of Article 140 about Kirkuk Province, and the rising role of Ba’athists and calls to re-integrate them into the political system.

Iraq's pot is simmering, but no one knows when it will explode.

Sadoun al-Janabi is a freelance Iraqi journalist who left his country earlier this year and currently lives in Syria.

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