Iran Cleans up in Iraq
Iran is perhaps the only unambiguous winner in the new situation in Iraq, and its foreign minister was basking in the glow on Saturday. On Friday, Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari defended Iran’s right to have a civilian nuclear energy program. That can’t be what Washington was going for in backing the new Iraqi government.
Al-Hayat reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki wrapped up his visit to Iraq by meeting in Najaf with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and with the junior cleric and nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, along with numerous other clerics in Najaf and Karbala. He also met in Baghdad with Sunni fundamentalist leader Adnan Dulaimi in an attempt to “reassure” him about Iran’s intentions in Iraq. The representative of Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Labid Abawi, said that Mottaki’s visit was “extremely positive.” He added, “One of our objectives was to underline that Iran is close to Iraq and that it is impossible to bypass it in looking for a resolution of the Iraq question.”
Mottaki reaffirmed that Iran had committed $1 billion in aid to Iraq, and would cooperate in the area of energy production. Mottaki also sent a letter to the tribunal judging Saddam Hussein with a list of charges against him.
Issues the Iraqis brought up with the Iranian official included the need for better border control to stop unauthorized entry of Iranians, as well as combatting weapons smuggling and drug smuggling. The Iranians in turn complained about the infiltration of Iran from Iraq of terrorists from the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) guerrilla movement. Saddam had allowed this terrorist group to establish a base in Iraq, in order to use it to harass the Iranian regime. Although the State Department considers the MEK a terrorist organization, the Department of Defense appears to be giving it free rein in Iraq.
Iranian news of the visit concentrated on the new Iranian consulates that will be established in Iraq.
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that Mottaki said Sistani emphasized the necessity of Iraqi national unity, and had avoided using the words “Shiite” and “Sunni.”
Tom Lasseter of Knight Ridder looks at the Shiite militias of the south. His interviewees in the British and US military maintain that Iran is running training camps inside Iran for Iraqi militiamen. (Iran for over two decades had trained the Badr Corps, recruiting from Iraqis who fled Saddam, so such training camps, facilities and expertise are nothing new.) On the other hand, since they have such longstanding and tight relations with Badr, it doesn’t really make much sense for them to arm, fund and train Badr’s potential rivals, such as splinter groups of the Iraqi nationalist Sadr movement. On that, I would have to see more proof. Badr is a no brainer.
Lasseter says that the Sadr movement dominates the city council of Amarah. Then he says that Amarah police are mostly Badr corps. That I don’t understand (I’m not challenging it, I just don’t understand). Wouldn’t the Sadrist councilmen have packed the police with members of the Mahdi Army? [Answer: The central government’s Ministry of Interior has enormous influence over the hiring of local police, and under Bayan Jabr it was in the hands of the Supreme Council, which has Badr as its paramilitary arm.]
Lasseter also reports on suspicions that the governor of Basra is using Shiite militias (of various sorts) for extortion and assassination. The governor is from the Virtue Party but is alleged to be using Badr and the Mahdi Army. (Last I knew, the Mahdi Army is not actually very powerful in Basra, but this may have changed).
The NYT profiles the ways in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is drawing power into the traditionally weak office of president.