Allawi Snubs Iran
Caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi cancelled his planned visit to Iran, even as he was being feted in Kuwait. He has sent a ministerial delegation instead, according to al-Hayat, in protest against Iranian meddling in Iraq. Allawi’s Minister of Defense Hazem Shaalan, has recently spoken out vocally against Iran, calling it Iraq’s number one enemy. Allawi had earlier dissociated himself from Shaalan’s views, expressing puzzlement as to why the minister would say that. Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari of the pro-Iranian al-Da`wa Party said that Shaalan’s views were personal, not those of the Iraqi government. But someone clearly has managed to convince Allawi of an egregious Iranian action toward Iraq, leading to the cancellation of his trip to Iran. Az-Zaman had reported on Friday that Iran was allowing Afghan jihadis to cross its territory and infiltrate Iraqi cities like Basra. (I take such reports with a grain of salt, since most Afghans don’t speak Arabic and would have difficulty not standing out in Iraq, and anyway Iran’s borders are impossible to patrol.)
Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported that even while the large Iraqi ministerial delegation is in Iran, Iranian media are full of attacks on Shaalan and his colleague, Minister of the Interior Falah al-Naqib. Shaalan is being depicted as implicated in the Iraqi aggression against Iran in the 1980s, and as a British, American and Israeli spy.
In the meantime, Iran condemned a plan announced by Saudi Arabia for a Muslim multinational force in Iraq. Even US Secretary of State Colin Powell was lukewarm, saying it needed more study. And the countries mentioned as possible contributors all hastily backed away. Bangladesh said it was out of the question for it to send troops to Iraq except under a United Nations command. My own estimation is that no country in the global South or the Muslim world is going to provide any significant number of troops to an American-led military multinational force. They would have to report to the UN. And, the Bush administration just is not going to give the UN a command in Iraq. So, the Saudi plan is dead in the water.
Allawi’s cozy relations with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his snub of Iran, suggests an emerging pattern in the caretaker government. Secular, pro-American Shiites like Allawi and Shaalan are increasingly throwing their lot in with powerful Sunni Arab neighbors of Iraq, cementing their alliance with Sunni Iraqi politicians like President Yawar in the process. In contrast, the religious Shiite parties are not being given any significant role in the new government (al-Da`wa has a vice-presidency and SCIRI has the Finance Ministry, and that is about it; the Sadrists have nothing). They are the ones who would seek close relations with Iran if they could. The religious Shiite parties also appear to be being sidelined in the national congress. Are pro-American, secular Shiite leaders a trojan horse inside Shiite Iraq for restored Sunni power and diplomacy in Iraq and the Gulf?
Allawi’s government cracked down this weekend on the Sadr movement. Iraqi National Guards and Coalition forces arrested Muqtada al-Sadr’s representative in the holy Shiite city of Karbala, Shaikh Mithal al-Hasnawi, early in the morning at his house, along with his brother. Muqtada’s spokesman, Ra’id al-Kadhimi, threatened retaliation. Muqtada and his movement are boycotting the national congress that will elect a weak, symoblic national assembly beginning in mid-August. US arrests of Muqtada aides in early April provoked substantial violence in Iraq. Note that this arrest would have been the work of Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib and would have been authorized by Iyad Allawi.