Iranian Shadow Falls Over Baghdad

ARBIL, Iraq – The main victors in the Iraq elections appear to be a slate of Shia politicians inspired by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and led by Sayyed Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. That makes Hakim a key man, whatever shape the government takes.

The former head of his organization’s military wing, the Badr Brigades, al-Hakim lived almost two decades in exile in Iran before returning to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. For many years, his organization received the bulk of its funding from the Iranian government, and as the election neared he spoke often of resuming Iraq’s relations with its eastern neighbor.

"Iran has helped the whole Iraqi nation for two decades," Hakim told United Press International Jan. 27. "We believe that with regard to the historical, cultural, religious and political commonalities that exist between the two nations, the relations between Iran and Iraq will be based on friendship, mutual respect, and noninterference in each other’s affairs."

The Supreme Council for Revolution in Iraq rejects clerical rule as practiced in Iran, but Hakim has often called Islam the "source of legislation."

"We will have neither a totally Islamic state nor a completely secular one, but something in-between," he said.

The final election results announced late Sunday denied the Shia ticket a clear majority. About 48 percent of votes went to the Shia slate, meaning that al-Hakim would have to make a coalition with either the Kurds – placed second with 26 percent – or U.S.-imposed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, placed third with 14 percent.

Al-Hakim has indicated a preference for a coalition with the Kurds, who demand autonomy in the north with oil-rich Kirkuk as their capital.

Shaun Da’oud, a Kurdish newspaper editor in Kirkuk, believes that Shia disgust at Allawi’s reversal of de-Ba’athification programs undertaken early in the occupation has pushed the Shia toward acceptance of federalism and Kurdish autonomy. Allawi is himself a former Ba’athist.

"A coalition between the Shia and Kurd is good," he argues, "because we don’t bump up against each other. The Shia are in the south and the Kurds in the north. The Sunni are between us, so we will never fight."

But some are looking at other alternatives. Earlier this week, Allawi traveled to northern Iraq to meet Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani. The two held a joint press conference where they denounced the formation of any government ruled by a single sect.

Some observers see this an attempt at a coalition that would keep Allawi in power in Baghdad with the support of Kurds and Sunni parties that boycotted the election.

"The main goal of the Sunni is to avoid a government supported by Iran," says Majid al-Samarai, columnist for Baghdad’s ez-Zamman newspaper and a television personality under Saddam’s regime. He believes that keeping Allawi in power will be the most stable solution for Iraq – even if it is not the most popular.

"There is some kind of agreement inside the current government that there should be a moderate solution," he said. "There will be a secular government. It will try to be respected by all Iraqis and to avoid conflict with America."

Majid al-Samarai, like most Sunnis in Iraq, sees the main purpose of the next Iraqi government as getting the 150,000 U.S. troops out of the country.

"The resistance will stay in Iraq," he predicts. "The resistance to occupation is alive, but if the government puts a plan for the U.S. to leave Iraq – and this is one of the future government projects – by this, the curve of violence will go down. Sunni people in general do not accept that the occupier is here. There must be a working plan for their leaving."

In this, al-Samarai and others close to the Sunni resistance have something in common with the Shia slate of Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who also made a phased withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq a key part of his group’s platform.

"No dignified person is willing to see foreign troops in their country," al-Hakim said, "and the Iraqi people are no exception. We hope, upon the formation, at the earliest, of strong and efficient military, police, and security organizations, that foreign troops leave the country."

(Inter Press Service)