OSC: Al-Arabiya discusses Iraq government, Al-Sadr Trend criticism of Iran role

The USG Open Source Center translates a discussion on al-Arabiya’s Panorama program about Iranian intervention in Iraq.

May 5, 2008 Monday

Al-Arabiya discusses Iraq government, Al-Sadr Trend criticism of Iran role

[“Panorama” programme moderated by Muntaha al-Ramahi discusses Iran’s intervention in Iraq, the Iraqi Government’s escalatory tone against Iran, Al-Sadr Trend’s criticism of Iran – live]

Dubai Al-Arabiya Television in Arabic at 1915 gmt on 4 May carries within its live “Panorama” news programme a 25-minute discussion, moderated by anchorwoman Muntaha al-Ramahi, on the Iraqi Government’s and the Al-Sadr Trend’s recent criticism of Iran’s interference in Iraq. The guests on the programme are Abd-al-Karim al-Inizi, member of the Iraqi Parliament representing the Unified Iraqi Coalition, via satellite from Baghdad; political analyst Ambassador Mohammed Shariati, via satellite from Tehran; and former Iraqi Minister of Transportation Salam al-Maliki, via telephone from Basra.

Al-Ramahi begins by saying that although “intermittent clashes” continue between the Iraqi security forces assisted by US forces and the supporters of Shi’i leader Muqtada al-Sadr, both sides criticize Iran and “hold it responsible for the incidents in Iraq.” She adds that the current Iraqi Government’s position has changed towards Iran, and that it has begun “to directly accuse Iran of fanning violence in Iraq.” She notes that a huge amount of Iranian weapons has been revealed in addition to documents that indict Iran in this regard. Al-Ramahi says that observers were surprised to hear Salih al-Ubaydi, spokesman for the Al-Sadr Trend, strongly criticize Iran. She notes that the recent criticism coincides with former Iranian President Khatami’s criticism of the Iranian regime, in which he stressed that exporting violence to other countries, which he did not name, is “treason against Islam and the Iranian Revolution.”

Al-Ramahi poses the following questions: Why has the Iraqi Government decide to open the file of Iran’s intervention in Iraq at this time in particular? Why did the Al-Sadr Trend, which is protected by Iran, criticize Iran? Did Khatami mean Iran’s intervention in Iraq or in other countries?

The programme then presents a three-minute report by Najah Muhammad Ali. Ali says that when the United States accused Iran of interfering in Iraq to undermine its stability, Iran’s supporters in the Iraqi Government, including the president and the prime minister, did not hesitate to defend Iran. However, he says that the situation changed following Operation Charge of the Knights in Basra and the international conference that was held recently in Kuwait. He adds that Iraqi Prime Minister Al-Maliki and his supporters have launched an unprecedented campaign against Iran without naming it. Moreover, he says that the Iraqi Government has been declaring on a daily basis the arrest of fighters supported by Iran and the discovery of Iranian weapons. Ali notes that the Al-Sadr Trend has launched a similar campaign against Iran. He adds that the Iraqi Government accuses Iran of being responsible for the security developments in Baghdad, particularly in Al-Sadr City. Moreover, he says that the US Army and Iraqi security officials accuse the Al-Mahdi Army of being behind the attacks on the Green Zone. Ali says that the Kuwait international conference failed because Al-Maliki failed to convince the Arabs to reopen their embassies and to write off Iraq’s debts. Hence, he says that Al-Maliki had to criticize Iran in order to gain Arab support, and that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry’s statement on the three disputed islands between Iran and the UAE falls within this context. Ali notes former Iranian President Khatami’s remarks in which he said that “exporting violence to other countries is treason against Islam and the Islamic Revolution.” He concludes by wondering if the Iraqis in the post-Saddam government “have become fed up with remaining under the Iranian cloak,” or if Iran’s intervention in Iraq has crossed all limits.

Asked to comment on the current situation and on the position towards Iran, Al-Inizi says that the new Iraqi policy in the new Iraqi regime “relies on the principle of convincing others to cooperate, because cooperation will be in the interest of all parties.” He notes that although hundreds of terrorists have entered Iraq, Iraq has not accused any Arab regime of being behind them because it believes in the need to cooperate with all neighbouring countries and to convince them of the need to cooperate. He says that he believes the current escalation towards Iran is a “deviation from the norms of Iraq’s policy” and a result of US diplomatic efforts to drive a wedge between the Iraqi Government and its neighbour, Iran.

Al-Ramahi notes that the Al-Sadr Trend, which is supposed to be supported by Iran, also criticizes Iran.

Addressing Shariati, Al-Ramahi asks him to comment on the change in Iraq’s position towards Iran. Shariati says that the official Iranian position continues to support Nuri al-Maliki’s government. He refers to the statements made by the Iranian ambassador in Iraq, in which he expressed support for the disarming of militias in Iraq but urged dialogue. With regard to the Al-Sadr Trend, Shariati says we must “discriminate between a sector of the Iraqi people and a political idea that is suspicious of the occupation. We must respect this position.”

Al-Ramahi refers to Khatami’s remarks, and says that political observers consider them as “clear criticism of the conservative trend led by Ahmadinezhad.” She asks if Khatami’s remarks indicate that “Iran is involved in files outside Iran.” Shariati says that reformists consider some of Iran’s foreign policy unacceptable. However, he says that Khatami talked about deviations from the course of the Iranian Revolution but did not mention Iraq, Lebanon, or any other country. He notes that when Khatami was president he did not receive Muqtada al-Sadr due to reservations about his actions and role in Iraq.

Asked if Khatami meant Iraq in particular, Shariati says that he certainly did not mean Iraq because the situation there is unclear.

Asked if Khatami meant Lebanon or Palestine, Shariati says: “We believe we should have diplomatic relations, and hold parallel relations with groups, and that these groups must not be involved in internal conflicts because the involvement of the groups supported by Iran in internal conflicts would embroil Iran and its foreign policy.”

Addressing former Iraqi Minister Salam al-Maliki, Al-Ramahi asks him to comment on the change in the Al-Sadr Trend’s position. Al-Maliki says that the issue of Iran’s intervention in Iraq and its support for the Al-Sadr Trend does not exist in reality. He admits that there are accusations, but argues that the Al-Sadr Trend’s positions in the political process are “independent.”

Interrupting, Al-Ramahi says that Salam al-Malik’s remarks are surprising, because even Iranians talk about Iran’s intervention in Iraq. Al-Maliki says that there is clear intervention, but that he is talking about the Al-Sadr Trend’s position and Iran’s support for the Al-Sadr Trend. He adds that the Iraqi Government must determine whether the Iranian role is positive or negative. He says that the Iraqi Government’s spokesman said that the government needs to verify the situation, but that military officials have openly accused Iran of intervention. Al-Maliki stresses that problems must not be resolved through the media. He says that the problem is that the Iraqi Government “has not yet drawn its foreign policy in a clear manner.” He argues that the United States encouraged Iran to interfere in Iraq in light of its hostile position towards Iran which prompted it to defend itself and its presence. Al-Maliki stresses that Iran’s role must be in support of the Iraqi people, and that any problem with any neighbouring country must be resolved through diplomatic means, not media outlets. He stresses that Al-Sadr Trend is not supported by Iran because Muqtada al-Sadr’s decisions are not influenced by foreign pressure; that Iran’s role in Iraq is not new; and that it was encouraged by the United States.

Asked about Iran’s support for the Al-Sadr Trend and how Iran can have “positive intervention” in Iraq, Shariati begins by noting that the headquarters of the Islamic Supreme Council and the Al-Da’wah Party were in Iran before the fall of Saddam Husayn. He argues that some internal disputes in Iraq are not the result of Iran’s intervention. With regard to the militias’ issue, he says that Iran must interfere and use its influence over all trends.

Al-Ramahi notes that the Iraqi Government criticizes Iran’s intervention even though it encompasses parties that are supported by Iran. Shariati says that Iran has relations with various parties, and that it “must make use of its influence to calm the Iraqi arena.” Shariati leaves the programme at this point.

Addressing Al-Inizi, Al-Ramahi says that even Iranians say that Iran must use its influence in Iraq to achieve stability and security. Hence, she notes that Iraq is being used by Iran as a card to acquire certain gains with regard to its relations with the West. She asks if the time is suitable for Iran to calm the situation in Iraq. Al-Inizi says that the Iraqi policy is based on cooperation with neighbouring countries and on convincing them to support the Iraqi Government. He says that the current escalation towards Iran indicates the success of the US policy that aims to use Iraq as a tool in its conflict with Iran. He urges the Iraqi Government not to fall into the trap, and to work hard with Iran in order to achieve security, political, and economic cooperation.

Asked why he accuses the United States of pushing the Iraqi Government towards adopting an escalatory position against Iran, Al-Inizi says that Iran was among the first to support the Iraqi Government and that it has strategic alliances with the ruling political forces. Hence, he argues that it is in Iran’s interest to see the government of its allies succeed. Therefore, he says that Iraq must not be part of the US-Iranian conflict, and that Iraq must convince the Iranians that any intervention must be positive and constructive.

Al-Ramahi argues that Iraq’s “escalatory tone” will not convince Iran to play a different role. Al-Inizi agrees and says that the Iraqi Government has deviated from the norms of its foreign policy. He urges Iraq to address neighbouring countries with a language that encourages cooperation, and to maintain positive and constructive relations with Iran.

Al-Ramahi says that Iran supports the disarming of militias in Iraq, but rejects the use of force. She asks if this has resulted in the change in the Al-Sadr Trend’s position. Al-Maliki

says that the Iranian Government has not accused the Al-Sadr Trend of being a militia. He notes that the issue of militias, including the Al-Mahdi Army, is complicated because some groups carry arms to defend the Iraqi people and expel the occupiers, which is legitimate, while other groups seek to undermine stability.

With regard to the Al-Mahdi Army, Al-Ramahi says that the Iraqi Government, Iran, and the US forces want to disarm it. She asks if a settlement can be reached in this regard. Al-Maliki notes the absence of dialogue. He says that the Al-Sadr Trend believes in dialogue to resolve all problems, and that the problem is that the Iraqi Government is not holding dialogue. He notes that everyone is calling for disarming all militias, but that the existence of occupation forces that attack civilians and the absence of dialogue with the government complicate the situation.

Concluding the episode, Al-Ramahi thanks her guests.

Source: Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai, in Arabic 1904 gmt 4 May 08

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