The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani just finished a four-day trip to Baghdad. His visit is raising questions about Iran’s role in the 2010 Iraqi elections, and Tehran’s continued support for militants.
Iran was instrumental in the formation of the main Shiite coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance. As the List was being put together a slew of Iranian officials traveled to Iraq, while Iraqi politicians went to Iran to talk with then leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who was residing in a hospital in Tehran. Iranians often joined those meetings. They failed to convince Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to join the National Alliance however. As Larijani entered Baghdad, Iraqi and Arab papers were full of reports that he was to put pressure on the Prime Minister to form a single Shiite list. This is highly unlikely as many members of the National Alliance oppose Maliki, and would not support his bid to remain prime minister, which is his top priority. Maliki’s allies in parliament have said that he will not give into Iranian pressure.
The 2010 Iraqi elections were definitely on Larijani’s agenda as he visited many top politicians. On November 6, 2009 he met with the head of the Supreme Council Ammar al-Hakim to discuss the National Alliance. Larijani also had lunch with Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council, who said that despite problems Iran and Iraq had improved their relationship. The speaker of parliament Ilyad al-Samarrai, his two deputies, and other lawmakers were on his agenda as well.
A less friendly encounter happened when Larijani met with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi of the newly formed Iraqi National Movement. Hashemi said that Iran had lost a lot of support within Iraq because of their interference in the country’s politics and security. Larijani also asked for Hashemi to pardon Iranian agents who had been captured trying to infiltrate into Iraq. The Vice President replied by saying that if Iran released Iraqis it held, than there could be an exchange.
Iran’s support for Shiite militants was on display just as Larijani entered Iraq. On November 4, two members of Hezbollah were captured with weapons in north Baghdad. Iran has used Hezbollah operatives to train and organize Shiite militiamen within Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003. On November 6, security forces in Kut, Wasit put up wanted posters for four members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, who they said were responsible for carrying out attacks on Iraqi forces and civilians. The Qods Force is a branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who were created to run its foreign policy. The Qods Force’s Ramazan Cops was created in the mid-1990s to deal with Iraq. It not only funds Special Groups and training camps, but is also responsible for giving money to Iraqi political parties, and economic aid to the country.
Iran’s main concerns in Iraq are to maintain a friendly Shiite government in Baghdad, make sure that it never becomes a foe to Tehran again, and hinder the U.S. effort there. Those have been seen during Larijani’s visit. He has tried to shore up the main Shiite alliance before the 2010 elections. At the same time, Iranian agents and their Hezbollah allies continue to carry out operations within Iraq to keep the country weak, and make the Americans pay a price for being there. For those reasons, Iran creates very mixed feelings within Iraq. People welcome their economic assistance and tourism, but resent their influence and destabilizing effect.
Alsumaria, “Ali Larijani meets Sayyed Ammar Al Hakim,” 11/6/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Al-Hashemi disagrees with Larijani on several issues – source,” 11/6/09
- “Al-Hashemi: tension dominates meeting with Larijani,” 11/6/09
- “Security forces seek 4 suspected Iranian group members,” 11/6/09
- “VP says relations with Iran improve despite ‘difficulties,’” 11/6/09
Az-Zaman, “Two Hizbullah Operatives Arrested in Iraq,” MEMRI Blog, 11/4/09
Al-Rafidayn, Al-Sabah, “Iraqi PM Al-Maliki May Succumb to Iranian Pressure to Join Shi’ite Coalition,” MEMRI Blog, 11/4/09
Al-Sharq al-Awsat, “Larijani Denies Mediation Role In Iraq,” MEMRI Blog, 11/6/09
Al-Zaman, Al-Mada, “Larijani Mediates Between Al-Maliki And Al-Hakim,” MEMRI Blog, 11/5/09