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Iran: Tehran Inflames Iraq’s Sectarian Strife

Iran: Tehran Inflames Iraq’s Sectarian StrifeNCRI – The following is Commentary by the US Alliance for Democratic Iran on Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq in the wake of Samarra bombing last week:

Early in the week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei claimed Iraq was the “embodiment” of America’s defeat there. He also said Washington’s goals in Iraq are the “creation of division and insecurity, and an effort to paint the popularly-elected government of Iraq as incompetent”. Repeating his previous accusations, Khamenei added that “the Americans are trying to instigate a sectarian and religious war in Iraq, and the cataclysmic event in Samarra is a case in point.”

So, was last week’s bombing aimed at a future democratic national unity government in Iraq? Indeed, it was; with Tehran as the main beneficiary of the attack.

The Monday before the February 22nd bombing of the sacred shrine of Askaryia, the US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sharply denounced Iran’s increasing meddling in Iraq. He described Iran’s campaign as a "comprehensive strategy" by a "player seeking regional preeminence," which seeks "to work with militias, to work with extremist groups, to provide training and weapons."

Ambassador Khalaizad’s chastising of Tehran was coupled with his blunt warning to pro-Tehran Shiite groups that the ministries of Defense and Interior must be run by those "who are nonsectarian, broadly acceptable and who are not tied to militias."

"We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian," Mr. Khalilzad said, adding that resolving the sectarian and ethnic strife demands a government of national unity, which is "the difference between what exists now and the next government."

The message to Tehran could not have been more explicit: Iran’s campaign in Iraq is inflaming the sectarian conflict and the dominance of the future government, particularly the security ministries, by the Shiite forces under the influence of Tehran, is a major impediment to the formation of a national unity government.

It would be extremely unlikely that such an unprecedented rebuke of Tehran and its cronies in Iraq would go unanswered. It is not particularly surprising that as more details about the Samarra explosion are coming out, many fingers are pointing to Tehran as the culprit.

Shortly after the bombing, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told reporters he held Mr. Khalilzad is partly responsible since “it gave green lights to terrorist groups.” Iraq’s current Interior minister is a top official of the SCIRI with its Badr militia as the de facto operator of the ministry which is reportedly responsible for the execution, torture and detentions of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis.

Hakim’s sinister linkage of Mr. Khalilzad with the bombing was echoed by other pro-Tehran Shiite officials. On the same day, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, also from SCIRI, in a direct challenge to US envoy’s call, said that Shiite militias must be given a bigger security role. Indeed, Mr. Khalilzad’s prudent insistence that the ministries dealing with the security must be run by non-sectarian figures, made many Tehran-influenced Shiite groups angry.

Many Sunni leaders point to the swiftness of the so-called Shiite reaction when they attacked the Sunni mosques and the religious leaders. Banners and placards were already printed and armed attacks by the mainly pro-Tehran Shiite militias had all the markings of an organized, well-planned operation.

The sophistication and the precision of the bomb explosion also point to a state-sponsored operation. And let’s not forget that the mullahs ruling Iran have a long record of stirring, provoking and manipulation of religious sentiments of people. Their livelihood literally depends on it. They have also shown that when it comes to advancing their nefarious objectives, they have no qualms about desecrating and destroying Shiite holy shrines.

In 1994, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) exploded a powerful bomb in the Imam Reza holy shrine in the Iranian city of Mashad, blaming it on Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin. Several years later when it became customary for Iran’s rival factions to hang their dirty laundry out in public, former officials of the ministry revealed that the MOIS was behind the bombing which killed tens of Iranians and wounded many more.

Iran is the primary beneficiary of the sectarian conflict since it hinders the efforts of Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish political leaders to form a democratic national unity government in Iraq. Tehran’s fear that its cronies will be facing stiff and deserving resistance from Iraqis are well-placed. On Thursday, Kurdish and Sunni political factions rejected the candidacy of outgoing Tehran-friendly Shiite Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari to lead the next cabinet. Jaafari had received a decisive endorsement from firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite faction, also heavily influenced by Tehran. "The Kurdish and the Sunni groups think that he (Jaafari) is… not neutral," a senior Kurdish lawmaker told reporters. Jaafari and his radical backers vowed to fight back, threatening to plunge the country into political turmoil.

Meanwhile, the deputy governor of the Iraqi province of Salah ad-Din, where the Samarra is located, reported that preliminary investigations "point to the involvement of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry" in last week’s bombing. No wonder Tehran and its allies in Iraq were so quick to shift the blame to the United States. Not too long ago, Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had warned that if Tehran comes under pressure, "Iran will use its capacity in the region," insinuating Tehran’s ability to create death and destruction in Iraq.

The Iraqis – Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds alike – are the primary casualties of a sectarian conflict and a divided Iraq. As a totalitarian theocracy, only Iranian officials and their allies stand to benefit from sectarian conflict in Iraq. Only the emerging cross-ethnic, cross-religion, anti-fundamentalist, and nationalist coalition offers a way out of the sectarian fury that benefits Tehran. Washington must continue to strongly support this coalition; it is a strategic imperative. The alternative is Tehran’s irreversible dominance of Iraq.