Al-Hayat writes in Arabic that Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Iran on Monday, seeing Tehran’s support for his candidacy for a second term. He met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as well as with first vice president Muhammad Rida Rahimi and minister of foreign affairs Manuchehr Muttaqi, along with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
During his welcome to al-Maliki, Khamenei said, “Iraq is an awake people, and there is no Sunni-Shiite dispute among the children of this people. They live together in various regions of Iraq . . . The security situation in Iraq is better than it was , , , we praise and thank God that the fire of sectarian turmoil has been extinguished . . . and security has been achieved . . . and we are looking forward today to the formation of a government . . . and the speeding up of reconstruction operations, which were idled in the era of dictatorship, which wasted the wealth of Iraq.”
According to PressTV, Khamenei slammed the US for continuing turmoil in Iraq, saying, “Despite relative stability in Iraq, the country is still suffering from insecurity and part of this insecurity is resulted from the pressures that are exerted by some powers whose political interests lie in creating insecurity in Iraq …” He added, “The Iraqi nation is a vigilant nation and there is not a possibility of another domination over the country whatsoever…”
IRNA gives a more extended paraphrase of Khamenei’s remarks:
“The Supreme Leader expressed concern about the delay in establishment of new Iraqi government and said that formation of Iraqi government, restoration of security in Iraq should be expedited as these are the prerequisite to attain sustainable development to help Iraqi people find their desired status among world countries. . . .
The current security status of Iraq is much better than before, said Ayatollah Khamenei adding that under the current stability, the country still suffers from minor insecurities which has roots in the interference of big powers who feel their political interests might be at risk.
Iraq is a very rich country with deep rooted culture and civilization, said Ayatollah Khamenei adding that the Iraqi people with such glorious background do not deserve to experience the current hardship.
The Islamic Republic of Iran sympathizes with the Iraqi nation in the face of pains and sufferings and that their victory makes the Iranian nation very happy, said the Supreme Leader adding that the Iraqi nation are vigilant and never let the aggressors dominate their country.
The Supreme Leader also expressed the hope to witness the US hands to be cut off from Iraq and the country’s problems to be resolved as soon as possible. ‘
The Guardian alleges that Iran began a campaign for al-Maliki in September, after US troop strength fell below 50,000 and the US had announced an end to combat operations. They used Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Hairi, an Iraqi resident in Qom, to pressure his sometime protege, Muqtada al-Sadr, into throwing his support to al-Maliki. Iran then tried to get Syria and the Lebanese Hizbullah to back al-Maliki, beginning a move toward regional consensus. The Guardian says, “Throughout September Maliki sent his chief of staff to Qom along with a key leader in his Dawa party, Abdul Halim al-Zuhairi. They were, according to the Guardian’s source, joined by a senior figure in Lebanese Hezbollah’s politburo, Mohamed Kawtharani, as well as arch-US foe General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Al-Quds Brigades…”
Al-Maliki on Monday made visit to the Iranian holy city of Qom for further consultations. He met there with Shiite clerical leader Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadr Movement, which has around 40 seats in the parliament elected on March 7. Some seven months later, the parliament is still hung, and no government has been formed. Al-Maliki needs 163 seats out of 325 to have a majority, but has only been able to pick up a little less than 140, including with the recently declared support of al-Sadr.
Al-Maliki is seeking Iranian support for his candidacy because another bloc of some 30 seats could become available to him if Ammar al-Hakim of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq were to swing behind him. ISCI has long been close to Iran but is bucking it on its recent decision to back al-Maliki, and presumably the latter is hoping Iran will apply further pressure and perhaps inducements to al-Hakim to get him to play ball.
Ra’uf Shaybani, the deputy foreign minister of Iran, is quoted by al-Hayat as saying, “In present circumstances, and taking into account the departure of foreign military forces, the choice of al-Maliki, who has long experience in leading the country … appears best for Iraq.” This is the most open endorsement yet by a high Iranian official of al-Maliki.
Al-Maliki from 2008 seems to have gained some control over the army and security forces and has deployed them fairly effectively in cities such as Basra and Baghdad, where he is popular as a result. Both Khamenei and Shaybani appear to be signalling that they are afraid of Iraq falling into chaos as the US military withdraws its final 50,000 troops over the next 15 months. They seem to feel that of all the candidates for prime minister, al-Maliki has the best chance of keeping a lid on renewed sectarian violence.
Iran is also presumably nervous about the possibility that the Americans will find a way to shoehorn into power Iyad Allawi, an ex-Baathist former CIA asset who is anti-Iranian. On CNN on Sunday, Allawi accuse Iran of upsetting the stability of the Middle East. Allawi has the largest single bloc of seats, 91, in the new parliament, but it is highly unlikely that he can put together the required 163 so as to come to power. The Shiites seem to be congealing around al-Maliki, with the exception so far of ISCI, which only has a handful of seats on its own. And the Kurdistan Alliance has signalled that al-Maliki is the most palatable to Irbil.
Iran’s ambassador in Baghdad reject Allawi’s charge of undue interference in domestic Iraqi affairs.
Al-Maliki has visited Jordan and Syria on this round of diplomacy concerning his candidacy, and plans trips to Turkey, Egypt and some Gulf countries, as well.
Al-Maliki has bad relations with Saudi Arabia because his Da’wa Party (Shiite Islamic Call Party) has waged a campaign of protest against the Wahhabi branch of Islam predominating in Saudi Arabia, accusing it of intolerance and bigotry toward Shiites. Saudi Arabia is supporting Allawi, who although he is of Shiite heritage garnered 80% of the Sunni vote last March.