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Hichem Karoui: Sectarian divide affecting Iraq
January 06, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Ostensibly, the Sunni/Shia cleavage created by foreign powers struggling for preponderance in the area and decades of bad governance and dictatorship has not diminished under the rule of Nouri al-Maliki. As the latter is still denying the problem, this attitude unfits him for the job, and gives his contenders more leverage and legitimacy in their demands, the first of which is that he resigns.

Media reports about the new Sunni protests describe those who probably represent at least half the population of Iraq, as “second rank citizens” in this country. Actually, the real figure of Iraqi Sunnis is unknown. Those who talked about a majority of Shiites crushed by a minority of Sunnis under the rule of Saddam had obvious interest in this talk, but no reliable statistics at all. Iraq is still waiting for a real democratic government able to perform the task of giving the real figures of the population. This may hardly be the current government.

Al-Maliki charges his political contenders to defend foreign interests and even to be the tools of a foreign conspiracy.

Who is conspiring against Iraq?

Here is his own answer, as reported by WikiLeaks diplomatic cables:

On September 22, 2009, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told US ambassador in Baghdad, Christopher Hill, that “Iran and Syria have both been providing weapons — including ‘Strela’ (SA-7B) shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles — to insurgent groups within Iraq,” according to a WikiLeaks released cable. And he added that “five members of the Sadrist-affiliated Promise Day Brigade (also linked to the Iranian al Quds force) were captured (...) attempting to smuggle such missiles in the false floor of a Toyota Land Cruiser.”

“In a September 22 [2009] meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told the [US] Ambassador that Iran is intervening increasingly boldly in the Iraqi political process in a bid to ‘control the COR’ (the Council of Representatives – the Iraqi Parliament). Iran has not discarded use of military means to attain its objectives, Maliki said, but for now, it is focusing on political means. If Iran does not succeed in influencing the upcoming Iraqi national elections, Maliki said, he expects to see them return to military actions.”

So, what measures did he take to stop or reduce Iranian meddling in Iraqi politics? The answer is: nothing.

Why? Obviously, because he is unable to face this situation.

Let us remember how this serious case started.

Several sources concord to say that the Iranian operation in Iraq started with the collapse of the Baath regime, included the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. In 2009, a cable from the US embassy in Baghdad acknowledged that the leadership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Quds Force (IRGC-QF) “took advantage of the vacuum which surrounded the fall of Saddam Hussein and the entry of Coalition Forces into Iraq in 2003, using the opportunity to send operatives to Iraq when little attention was focused on Iran.”

In February 2003, the commanders of these forces “implemented plans to infiltrate Iraqi towns and popularise the slogan of ‘no East, no West, only an Islamic Republic’.”  Meetings were held with Badr Corps commanders. Each division had a mission of control to achieve inside Iraq.  While Tehran took control and monitored the activities of the Ninth Badr Corps divisions, its reconnaissance and intelligence units had been able to secretly enter Iraq in small groups since March 28, 2003: “The Ramazan Garrison commander coordinated the entry into Iraqi territory. They gave everyone entering Iraq a Kalashnikov, a cartridge belt and some cash in US dollars.”

Unable to face directly the US forces, Tehran deployed a twofold strategy: on the one hand, it tried to “expand public activities by setting up charity, assistance, medical help and other civil networks, similar to those of the Hezbollah in Lebanon.” On the other hand, it “expanded clandestine armed cells to conduct military operations against US forces and Iraqis opposed to the presence of the Iranian regime and its affiliated forces.”

On May 21-22, 2003, meetings were reportedly held at the Quds forces’ headquarters at the former US embassy in Tehran, attended by the Badr Corps commanders and the leaders of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). It was decided to organise the Ninth Badr Corps on the pattern of the Revolutionary Guards Corps-Bassij. A scenario much similar to the beginning of Hezbollah in Lebanon unfolded, with available funds to buy loyalties from a Shiite population impoverished by successive wars. “Accordingly, the Ninth Badr corps forces will set up cells in mosques in their regions and begin to recruit young and new forces from all regions.”  The Quds Force would provide logistic support.

On January 30, 2008, Emad Klanter described as “Scion of a prominent Najafi clerical family and related to both Grand Ayatollah Sistani and Moqtada al-Sadr,” told the US embassy in Baghdad, on behalf of his uncle Ayatollah Sistani that “his greatest fear [Sistani] is the degree of Iranian penetration in Iraq. He claimed that Sistani is in possession of detailed Iranian plans to dominate Iraq’s political, economic, and religious institutions.”

Another cable dated September 2, 2008, identifies two phases of Iran’s penetration in Karbala. The first, beginning in 2003 and lasting until 2006, “featured the ham-fisted backing of militias such as the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and the Badr Corps.” The second phase came later as a consequence of the increase of violence and the complaints of the Iraqis blaming much of it on the Iranians. Then Tehran resorted to using funds “to build relationships with local government officials in order to solidify the central role of Iranian businesses in the province.” Acting in total accord with the duty of every Shiite to help maintain the shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas, Tehran used “Shamsah Travel and Tourism” — an economic enterprise – as a screen for its activities. Iraqi government and private-sector sources of the US embassy “describe Shamsah as an umbrella organisation comprising some 2,500 Iranian companies, closely linked to the Iranian Government.” It is believed that this company is “the soft arm of the Quds Force.”

Now, let us ask: has this situation bettered since then or worsened?

The current wave of protests across Iraq is enough evidence on the inability of the Al Maliki government to reduce the cleavages and unify the country.

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The author is an expert in US-Middle East
relations at the Arab Center for Research
and Policy Studies (Doha Institute)

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