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Iran Molds Deal for Allied Iraq Gov; Taboos News of Internal Opposition

18 Oct 2010 11:43No Comments

Press Roundup provides selected excerpts of news and opinion pieces from the Iranian and international media. Click on the link to the story to read it in full. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. The inclusion of various opinions in no way implies their endorsement by Tehran Bureau. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow other news items through our Twitter feed.

THE LEAD

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Iran Brokers Behind-the-Scenes Deal for Pro-Tehran Government in Iraq

Guardian | Oct 17

Iran has brokered a critical deal with its regional neighbours that could see a pro-Tehran government installed in Iraq, a move that would shift the fragile country sharply away from a sphere of western influence.

The Guardian can reveal that the Islamic republic was instrumental in forming an alliance between Iraq's Nouri al-Maliki, who is vying for a second term as prime minister, and the country's powerful radical Shia cleric leader, Moqtada al-Sadr.

The deal -- which involved Syria, Lebanon's Hezbollah and the highest authorities in Shia Islam -- positions Maliki as a frontrunner to return as leader despite a seven-month stalemate between Iraq's feuding political blocs.

It also positions Iran as a potent buffer to US interests at a time when America is looking to change its relationship with Iraq from military overlords to civilian partners.

At the time the US had only just withdrawn its last dedicated combat units from Iraq but left behind a political vacuum with no government in place after March elections delivered a seemingly irrevocably split parliament.

According to sources the Iranians saw their opportunity.

"The Iranians were holding out until then," said a key source about the timing of the Iranian move. "They were not going to give the Americans the satisfaction of leaving on a good note."

Within days of the withdrawal, Sadr, who lives in self-imposed exile in the Iranian city of Qom, was told by the Iranians to reconsider his position as a vehement opponent of Maliki. Sadr's party in Iraq had won more than 10% of the 325 seats in play at the election making him a powerbroker in the formation of any new government.

The push initially came from the spiritual head of the Sadrist movement, Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, who has been a godfather figure to the firebrand cleric for the past 15 years.

"He couldn't say no to him," said the official. "Then the Iranians themselves got involved."

How Iran Brokered a Secret Deal to Put Its Ally in Power in Iraq

Guardian | Oct 17

Hours after Sadr's endorsement, on 1 October, the bulk of Iraq's Shia political blocs announced that Maliki was their candidate for prime minister, after seven months of political torpor.

This crystallised two things; that Maliki would likely out-manoeuvre his rivals, and that those who supported him would want, in return, more than their share of treasure. On the regional chessboard that is Iraqi politics, Maliki's move was akin to putting his key rival, Iyad Allawi, in check.

The price sought has now begun to emerge, along with a picture of how Sadr's support was won and what it means for Britain and the US, who have invested 4,500 lives, billions of pounds and their international standing in the hope of shaping Iraq as a western-oriented democracy that realigns the regional balance.

According to Guardian sources, Maliki's renewed grasp on power and the Sadrists' elevation as influence brokers have been brought about by a consortium of the Middle East's most-powerful Shia Islamic players, whose power bases are rooted in the region's other main player, arch US foe Iran.

It has been spearheaded by the Islamic Dawa party, which opposed Saddam Hussein from a base in Tehran during the Ba'athist years, as well as by Maliki's adviser, Tareq Najim Abdullah. Sadr and Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, a key exiled figure, who has acted as Sadr's godfather, also led the way.

Qassem Suleimani, head of the al-Quds brigades, a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the head of Lebanese Hezbollah's politburo, Mohammed Kawtharani, also heavily influenced the process. Above them all, two Shia Islamic overlords, Grand Ayatollah Khameini, and Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah are understood to have been involved in getting Sadr onside. In interviews over the past week, important players in Iraq's power base have divulged the essence of what they believe the Sadrists demanded from Maliki's envoys. It includes a grant of three ministries from his own quota, bringing to seven the number of ministries that the Sadrists could hold in a new government.

It also includes the position of secretary-general of the cabinet and, crucially, deputy positions in all the security agencies. A total of 100,000 roles allocated to Sadrists in government agencies appears to be on the table, as is a mass release of Sadrist prisoners.

Iran Destabilizing Entire Middle East: Former Iraq PM Allawi

AFP | Oct 17

Former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi on Sunday accused Iran of trying to "wreak havoc" across the entire Middle East and interfering in Iraq's political process.

"We know that unfortunately Iran is trying to wreak havoc on the region, and trying to destabilize the region by destabilizing Iraq, and destabilizing Lebanon and destabilizing the Palestinian issue," Allawi said.

"And this is where unfortunately Iraq and the rest of the greater Mideast is falling victim to these terrorists who are definitely Iran-financed and supported by various governments in the region."
Allawi's Iraqiya political bloc earned 91 seats in Iraq's March 7 elections. two more than the State of Law alliance headed by current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The two parties have been locked in a battle for control of the 325-member Council of Representatives, shuffling through potential coalitions that could win them power.

Allawi, a moderate Shiite whose political grouping attracted support from Sunnis, said Iran was interfering in Iraq's political process.

"Definitely in Iraq I can say categorically that Iran is trying even to bring about change to the political process according to their wishes and requirements."

"I don't believe that there are leaders in the region who are trying to fuel extremism and bring about sectarianism; unfortunately, only Iran," Allawi said.

Report: White House Demands Maliki Oust Sadr from Coalition

Antiwar.com | Oct 17

Sadr's supporters had such a strong showing in the election that they managed to seize control over the Iraqi National Alliance from the Supreme Islamic Council, and it was Sadr more than anyone else who made the current coalition possible.

[I]f Maliki obeys the US and ousts Sadr, it isn't clear that he will have a coalition at all anymore, or at the very least not one capable of forming a government. Maliki's bloc finished second in the vote to rival Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya bloc, and it was only through Sadr's participation that he had any chance at a second term in office.

Any majority coalition government in Iraq required the participation of two of the three major blocs, and each side had its foreign advocate, with the Obama Administration supporting the Maliki-Allawi pairing, Syria supporting an Allawi-Sadr pairing, and Iran supporting the Maliki-Sadr pairing that ultimately won out. Maliki may risk a lot in forming a coalition overtly opposed by the US, which is still occupying the nation, but he might be risking even more to expel Sadr after a deal has been made for a coalition which would strengthen the Shi'ite clergy, a move that is supported both by his key allies in Iran and by a large portion of Maliki's own constituency.

Iran Warns Domestic Media over Opposition News

Reuters | Oct 17

Iranian print media will be shut down if they publish news about the opposition, a senior state official was quoted by an opposition website as saying, pointing to a fresh crackdown on freedom of speech in the Islamic state.

Dozens of pro-reform activists have been imprisoned and sentenced to long jails in the past few weeks, something analysts say is meant to uproot opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was re-elected in a disputed vote last year.

"Those publications that publish statements and pictures of the sedition (opposition) leaders will be warned and then closed down if they continue to do so," senior Culture Ministry official Ehsan Ghazizadeh, who oversees domestic media, was quoted by the opposition website Kaleme as saying, in remarks also published by other media in Iran.

Over a dozen pro-reform publications and websites have been shut down since the June 2009 presidential election, making it hard for opposition leaders -- defeated candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi -- to reach out to ordinary Iranians.

OTHER NEWS

US Says Chinese Firms Ignoring Iran Sanctions

AFP | Oct 18

The United States believes some Chinese firms are helping Iran improve its missile technology and develop nuclear weapons and has asked Beijing to prevent such activity, The Washington Post reported.

Citing an unnamed senior US official, the newspaper said the request was conveyed during a visit to Beijing last month by a US delegation led by Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control.

Einhorn gave his Chinese counterparts a "significant list" of companies and banks that the United States thinks are violating UN sanctions against Iran without authorization from the Chinese government, the report said.

US intelligence believes that several Chinese companies have been providing restricted technology and materials to Iran's military programs while some Chinese banks were backing these deals, the paper noted.

Most of the deals concerned Iran's missile program, according to The Post.

A senior official from a Western intelligence agency said Chinese firms were also discovered selling high-quality carbon fiber to Iran to help it build better centrifuges, which are used in enriching uranium, the paper noted.

In 2008, for example, Iran obtained 108 pressure gauges, which are critical to the functioning of a centrifuge, from one Chinese company.

See also: "U.S. Says Chinese Businesses and Banks Are Bypassing U.N. Sanctions against Iran" (Washington Post)

Iran Trade with P5+1 Rises 12%

Tehran Times | Oct 15

Trade exchange between Iran and the world's major powers has seen a 12% rise in the first six months of the current Iranian year despite recent U.S.-engineered sanctions.

During the first six months of the current Iranian year (started on March 21) the volume of trade between Iran and the P5+1 states -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- has soared to [$]9.337 billion, reflecting a 12% increase, whereas the figure for the same period last year stood at [$]8.322 billion, Fars news agency reported on Sunday.

In defiance of persistent Western media hype with the aim of isolating the Islamic Republic, the country's exports to China has climbed [...] 66.76% with the value standing at $2.22 billion.

This is while the amount of imports rose [...] 34.39% valuing $2.53 billion.

U.S. Deal with European Oil Firms Hobbles Iran Air

Washington Post | Oct 17

A recent agreement between four of Europe's largest oil companies and the United States aimed at further isolating Iran is already having an impact, with Iran Air, the Islamic republic's national carrier, unable to refuel its planes in most of Europe.

The fueling problem follows a new push by the Obama administration to move beyond the strict letter of sanctions it imposed to a broader attempt to discourage international businesses from dealing with Iran.

It also illustrates a shift away from an earlier U.S. policy of reaching out to the Iranian people and trying to target mostly state organizations central to Iran's nuclear program. Officials now admit that the increased pressure is hurting ordinary Iranians but say they should blame their leaders for the Islamic republic's increasing isolation.

As a result of the canceled jet fuel contracts, all Iran Air planes departing from destinations such as Amsterdam, London and Stockholm are now forced to make lengthy fuel stops either at an airport in Germany or one in Austria, where Total of France and OMV of Austria are still providing the 66-year-old airline with jet fuel until their contracts run out, possibly as soon as next month. At that point,Iran Air could be forced to cancel or severely reduce flights.

During such a stop in the Austrian capital last Sunday, several passengers complained about the unannounced stop. "What do we have to do with our government?" an Iranian man asked loudly, after discovering to his surprise that the plane had landed on the Vienna tarmac. "We are becoming prisoners because of these disagreements between Iran and America.''

Iran Arrests Six Afghan Military Officers, Soldier: Report

AFP | Oct 17

Iran has arrested six Afghan military officers and a soldier who said they were hunting for Taliban militants in the border province of Sistan-Baluchestan, ISNA news agency reported on Sunday.

Border police arrested the seven Afghan military personnel 50 metres (yards) inside Iranian territory, border police commander Hossein Zolfaghari said, quoted by ISNA, without giving a date.

A police spokesman in Afghanistan's Farah province said the incident took place four days ago, when a patrol crossed the border by mistake during a dust storm.

Iran's Zolfaghari said the arrested group said they were "patrolling the area and hunting for Taliban (militants), and that they had no intention to enter Iranian soil."

Sistan-Baluchestan in southeast Iran bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan is an area rife with a Sunni Muslim Baluchi insurgency against Tehran, tribal unrest and drug smuggling.

"The case of the arrested people is being investigated by the judiciary," Zolfaghari said, adding that border police had confiscated a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and six rifles from the group.

The arrests were made as the "armed people driving a vehicle without a proper number plate crossed the border into Sistan-Baluchestan."

"They were stopped and arrested by border police after shots were fired," the officer said, without elaborating.

Turkey Conditionally Approves NATO Missile Shield

Hürriyet | Oct 15

Turkey indicated Thursday during a meeting of NATO ministers that it could approve the deployment of a proposed U.S.-led anti-missile system on Turkish soil, though it expressed reservations about the project.

"We demanded that Iran and Syria not be cited as 'threats' in NATO's official documents on the planned defensive shield," Turkish Foreign Ministry officials told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday. "Also, the deployment of the shield should cover the territory of all NATO allies, as well as the entire territory of Turkey."

Ankara told the U.S. officials that if defense is the purpose of the system, no nations should be named in NATO documents as targets, since that would provoke those countries, according to the same diplomatic sources.

"In that case, Turkey could face problems with its neighbors due to the missile shield," diplomatic sources [said].

In Search of Country's Economic Growth Rate

Uskowi on Iran | Oct 17

The chairman of Iran's semi-official Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Nahavandian, today criticized the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) for refusing to release its figures on GDP rate of growth for the Iranian fiscal year of 1388 that ended on 20 March 2010. CBI has historically released the annual state of the economy reports, which had included the official growth rate. CBI has offered no explanations for the omission of the growth rate from this year's report.

On another economic news, the CBI has put a stringent limit on the purchase of foreign currency, including US dollars. The Iranians who travel abroad can purchase up to $2,000 at the official rate after providing their airline tickets as proof of their needs for the currencies. The question now remains, what would other people who would need more than $2,000 do?

CBI's silence on the availability of hard currency purchase beyond its new limit has renewed recent speculations that the CBI is contemplating the reintroduction of a two-tier currency exchange rate, an official rate and one based on the free market; and doing it at least in practice without a formal announcement. In the past, the Iranian economy has suffered enormously as the result of irregularities inherent in a two-tire foreign currency exchange system, and its reintroduction would cause same problems.

OPINION & ANALYSIS

Iran's Influence in Iraq: Game, Set but Not Match to Tehran

Michael Knights (Guardian) | Oct 17

"Today, Iraq is to Iran as Lebanon was to Syria," intoned an Iraqi politician during a recent off-the-record briefing in Washington. The sentiment is commonly expressed by Iraqis, the US's Arab allies and by many American diplomats and soldiers: that the United States removed Iran's most inveterate opponent - Saddam Hussein's regime - and then allowed Tehran to become the most influential outside power in Iraq.

But is it really "game, set, match to Iran"? Any assessment of Iran's influence in Iraq must centre on a review of Tehran's interests and objectives vis-a-vis its neighbour and historic rival. Above all other considerations, Tehran seeks to prevent Iraq from recovering as a military threat or as a launchpad for an American attack.

Some of these objectives have been achieved, for at least the current decade, by the removal of Saddam's regime, the de-Ba'athification of the security services and the ascent of former armed oppositionists into the leadership of post-Saddam Iraq.

Undertaking or supporting an attack upon Iran would simply be much harder for Iraqi politicians who relied upon Iran for protection during the last three decades of Ba'athist rule and who often made common cause with the Tehran against the Iraqi military. This is one reason why Iran has supported its Iraqi allies in their ongoing de-Ba'athification efforts and why it would prefer not to see a new, cross-sectarian nationalist bloc emerge in Iraq.

Looking forward, Iran's supporters in the Iraqi government will seek to complicate the task of negotiating a post-2011 US-Iraqi security agreement and to restrict the scale and effectiveness of American security assistance to Iraq's external security forces. Though Iranian-backed militancy in Iraq is an irritant in the two countries' relations, the al-Quds Brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), responsible for operations outside Iran, will maintain its ability to target US military personnel, diplomats and private citizens in Iraq, which could act as one source of deterrence against a US or Israeli military strike on Iran - a nightmare scenario for US generals and diplomats in Iraq.

DOCUMENTS & DECLARATIONS

The Situation of Human Rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran

Report of the Secretary-General (United Nations General Assembly) | Oct 15

Since the previous report of the Secretary-General and the adoption of resolution 64/176, there have been further negative developments in the human rights situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran[: ...] an intensified crackdown on human rights defenders, in particular women's rights activists, journalists and Government opponents in relation to post-election unrest in June 2009. Concerns about torture, arbitrary detentions and unfair trials continued to be raised by United Nations human rights mechanisms. There was a noticeable increase in application of the death penalty, including in cases involving political opponents and juvenile offenders. Discrimination persisted against minority groups and in some cases amounted to persecution.

The following sections of the report highlight developments that illustrate the progress or lack thereof in implementing the various requests to the Iranian authorities by the Assembly in its resolution 64/176. These include the following thematic areas, outlined in paragraph 4 of the resolution: torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including flogging and amputations; the death penalty, including public executions; executions of juvenile offenders; stoning as a method of execution; women's rights; rights of minorities, including the Baha'i community; freedom of religion, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression and due process of law rights, including in relation to the events following the presidential elections in June 2009.

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