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An insight to Iranian influence in Iraq - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Bayan Jabr Solagh, the Iraqi Interior Minister in the current cabinet headed by Ibrahim al Jaafari, defamed Saudi Arabia and its Foreign Minister, Saud al Faisal, earlier this week. In an unprecedented slander, the fundamentalist politician debased himself and exposed the Saudi for riding camels while insisting he was the son of Hammurabi!

This could not be further from the truth. Everyone is well aware that Baqir Solagh, to use his real name rather than Bayan, his nom de guerre, is a member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) headed by Abdul Aziz al Hakim and its armed wing, the Badr Brigade, affiliated with the Ittilaat, the Iranian intelligence agency, and Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards. At the helm of all these groups is Grand Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran. Given such connections, Solagh should be the last to preach democracy and invoke the laws of Hammurabi.

Saud al Faisal did not preach about democracy or civil society in Iraq. Instead, he merely warned against the dangers of civil war and exposed the deeply entrenched sectarian divisions in the country, with Abu Musab al Zarqawi on one hand, and the Badr militias on another, both ready to kill according to factional identity.

Information trickling from Iraq reveals the extent of Iranian meddling. I recently spoke to an Iraqi living in the country and a well-respected Shiaa figure, who pleaded that he remain anonymous. His revelations were simply extraordinary.

Iranian interference in Iraq was no longer a secret, despite the protestations of Solagh. As the SCIRI’S representative in Syria, did he not react furiously to a colleague”s article on Muhsin al Hakim, father of Abdul Aziz and Baqir al Hakim? My friend the writer told me he was “angrier than the sons of Muhsin al Hakim himself, even though I come from a well-respected Shiaa Iraqi family and did not criticize or attack Muhsin.”

To return to my conversation with the Shiaa cleric, he spoke bitterly of the Arab abandonment of Iraq and criticized the US administration”s wavering policies and the fact that it did not heed the warnings on Iranian interference and the danger this posed for the Arab national identity of Iraq.

He said, “I am an Iraqi Shia cleric from a family renown for its religious and literary past, but I am opposed to Iranian meddling. I have received death threats because of this.” Asked about who might be behind these threats, he said, “Iran’s agents and their supporters. They are the ones likely to carry out the threat. Strangely, I was first alerted to this by an envoy from Bayan Jabr Solagh who told me the Minister wanted me to “take care of myself”! He laughed, adding, “It’s strange. How did the minister think I was going to take care of myself? How am I able to fend off those trained to track and assassinate for years during their time in the Revolutionary Guards and the Badr militias?”

He added, “It is incorrect to claim that all Iraqi Shiaas support Iran. Those few that are belong to parties that receive financial, political, and logistical aid from Tehran. These are the SCIRI led by al Hakim, the Prime Minister”s Dawa Party, Moqtada al Sadr and his supporters, as well as other minor groups.

Rumors have it that General Sulaymani, the chief of intelligence in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, was personally responsible for Iraqi affairs while an individual, known as Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former leader of the Badr Brigade, represented Iraq with the Iranian authorities. According to estimates, 6000 Shiaa clerics regularly receive their salaries from Iran.

When I asked Iyad Jamal al Din, the Iraqi politician and intellectual, whether all Iraq’s Shiaa were supporters of Iran, he answered unequivocally, “Quite the opposite. One must not forget the long and bloody war that pitted Iran against Iraq, during which millions were injured, killed, or abducted. Many of the casualties were Iraqi Shiaas. How can they easily forget all the bloodshed?”

He added, “The Iraqi national character is also very different from that of Iran. No matter how strongly the Iraqis might revere a Sayyed (high ranking religious leader who descends from the Prophet Mohammad) or the Marjaiyah (senior religious clerics), he can quickly turn against either and attack them if a conflict of interest arises. In Iran, the Sayyed and the supreme religious authority are held in high esteem and deemed infallible.”

As if to support Jamal al Din’s viewpoint, many in Iraq have been sending each other the following joke, via Bluetooth technology on their mobile phones, “We have elected incompetent individuals because we trusted the choice of the Marjaiyah (the country’s highest Shiaa authority)”, after candidates from the United Iraqi Alliance swept the elections with 48% of the votes and were supported by Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

According to one source, the governorate which voted most in favor of Sistani’s list Dhi Qar, the capital of which is al-Nasiriya, has the highest rates of alcohol consumption! This is further evidence that, if Iraq”s Shiaa back the supreme authority politically, it does mean that they are willing to unconditionally support another Islamic Republic in the South.

Either way, the Shiaa community remains an essential part of Iraqi society; the same can also be said for the Sunni community, both Kurdish and Arab.

I do not wish to condemn or criticize the Shiaa for they are a major pillar in Iraq. The community has given the country several Iraqi politicians and intellectuals and statesmen. However, it is important not to misconstrue the current political situation, as the group which was previously sidelined has come to power. It is crucial to warn against the ambitions of the clerics in Iran which will constitute the mistake of a lifetime or to be more precise, the Shiaa who are loyal to Iran and who only represent a faction of Iraq’s Shiaa will be committing a grave error.

In a previous article entitled, “The Islamic Republic of Iraq”, I warned against such a scenario, based on the history of the Badr Brigade and its Iranian patronage and the statements of al Hakim where declared his support he Shiaa fundamentalist dream.

I have also repeatedly condemned the submissiveness of Iraqi Sunnis to the terrorist al Zarqawi and the remnants of the Baath party.

I have shied away from using sectarian language as it is harmful and detestable. I do, however, wish to warn of Sunni extremism, represented by the criminal al Zarqawi. I urge all Sunnis across Iraq to combat this blood thirsty fanatic and his supporters because consenting to his activities, justifying them, or being associated with them will represent political suicide and a crime against morality and humanity.

I will continue to repeat my message to the Sunnis of Iraq as long as al Zarqawi continues to act in their name. Yet, at the same time, how can we discard the fanaticism of al Zarqawi only to fall into al Khomeini’s lap!

We refuse to condemn al Zarqawi’s crimes only to be rewarded with crimes committed by the Badr Brigade, believed to be responsible for murdering a number of Sunni leaders. Consider Vice President Ghazi al Yawer”s allusions to an alliance between the militias and the Sunni extremist groups in stirring civil strife. Or Jalal Talabani’s talk, filled with innuendo, after the honeymoon period between the Kurds and Jaafari ended, on the mysterious killings in Iraq.

The Arab Sunni community in Iraq made a mistake when they hesitated to join the political process, it is true, and those who did represent them harmed them even further, especially the Association of Muslim Scholars. They must rectify this and become partners in this political process because the only other alternative is to ally themselves with al Zarqawi or what is left of Saddam’s regime.

In conclusion, the Saudi involvement in Iraq is vitally important especially since it does not favor one faction over the other, as Saud al Faisal has indicated. The Kingdom is engaged in Iraq for the sake of Iraq, all of Iraq. A stable Iraq means a stable Saudi Arabia. This involvement is welcomed in most quarters, even if some continue to ask, “Why so late?” to which one can only answer: better late than never.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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