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Iran pressuring Shi’ite Iraqi allies to support Al-Maliki for Prime Minister

Iran sent a harsh message to its Shi’ite Iraqi partners in a blatant attempt to decide the bid for Iraq’s next Prime Minister.

Iran has sent a message to Shi’ite allies in Iraq, demanding they support the candidacy of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat has reported.

According to the report, based on an anonymous source in the Islamist Iraqi National Alliance (INA) led by Sayyed Ammar Al-Hakim, the Iranian message directed their Shi’ite partners in Iraq to accept Al-Maliki’s candidacy “even if he hit you over the head.”

The report added that Iranian authorities have prevented Muqtada Al-Sadr, a member of the INA currently residing in Iran, from traveling to the city of Irbil in northern Iraq for political meetings. This is presumed to be a punitive measure for his rejection of Al-Maliki and apparent support for his rival Iyad ‘Alawi.

“Iran is worried that ‘Alawi represents mainly Sunni interests in Iraq, whereas Al-Maliki is better for Shi’ites,” Ali Al-Saffar, a Middle East analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit told The Media Line. “Iran believes that the premiership of ‘Alawi would mean the weakening of the Shi’ite stronghold of Iraq over time.”

“‘Alawi has done little to alleviate the Iranian fears,” he added. “Although he himself is Shi’ite, most of the people surrounding him are Sunni.”

“As far as Iran is concerned, a partnership between ‘Alawi and Al-Maliki is the worst case scenario, because it would mean that the ruling coalition was independent of Iran’s Islamist supporters in the Iraqi National Alliance.”

However, an alliance between ‘Alawi and Al-Maliki would make sense, said Al-Saffar, since they are both centrists and widely agree on internal Iraqi affairs. Al-Hakim, on the other hand, is a federalist and his policies significantly diverge from those of his contenders.

Dr. Reider Visser, editor of the Iraq-focused website historiae.org doubted Iran was backing Al-Maliki. He said that for a long time Iran’s priority in Iraq has been a unified Shi’ite coalition, and therefore ‘Alawi is not an option for them. However, there is no real indication that Iran has changed its policy of supporting a weak compromise candidate from the INA.

“The Iranians are sticking to their policy of keeping Shi’ites united in a sectarian front,” Visser told The Media Line.
Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a political scientist and expert on Iran, said that Iran’s intervention in Iraqi politics was not surprising. “Homeisim (Iran’s revolutionary ideology) is an expansionist ideology. Iran has no interest in stabilizing the region; on the contrary – it seeks to destabilize it and humiliate the Americans in the process.”   

Iraq has come to a political standstill ever since parliamentary elections in early March and the three main factions have not been able reach an agreement on a candidate for prime minister.

Iyad ‘Alawi’s Iraqiya bloc emerged first from the election with 91 seats, followed closely by Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance with 89. The religious Shi’ite Iraqi National Alliance came in third with 70 seats.

In early June Al-Maliki’s coalition merged with the Iraqi National Alliance; however, Muqtada Al-Sadr, a member of the INA, is reluctant to support Al-Maliki’s reappointment as prime minister.