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News | Iran Moves to Bolster Iraq's Beleaguered Premier Maliki

06 Jun 2012 06:15Comments

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MalikiAndKhamenei.jpg6:15 a.m. IRDT, 17 Khordad/June 6 Amid a surge of bombings and assassinations in Iraq carried out by Sunni militants and moves to hold a no-confidence vote in parliament that could unseat Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran has been taking steps to support his embattled administration. (In the accompanying photo, taken in Tehran in April, Maliki is seen between Iranian First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.) The Associated Press reports,
On Monday, one of the linchpin partners in al-Maliki's government, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, traveled to Iran for talks, government officials said. A day earlier, al-Sadr urged al-Maliki to "do the right thing" and resign, but it remains unclear whether al-Sadr will bow to Iranian pressure in the end. [...]

In April, al-Maliki was given a red carpet welcome during a visit to Tehran, where he had spent some time as an anti-Saddam activist. Iran delivered an even bigger reward to al-Maliki in May: bringing the nuclear talks with world powers to Baghdad as a symbol of the city's slow rebound from war and as a showcase of Iran's close ties. [...]

"There is some Iranian pressure on [Iraqi] President [Jalal Talabani] not to send the letter to parliament [requesting the no-confidence vote] and to support al-Maliki," said a lawmaker of al-Maliki's political bloc, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss sensitive political dealings with reporters.

Hamid al-Mutlaq, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqiya bloc, was more blunt: "The Iranian interference annoys us a lot. [...] Iran is a big player in Iraqi politics."

Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, who is regarded as Sadr's mentor, recently called on the younger cleric to refrain from creating divisions between Iraqi Shiites over political matters. In a move widely seen as a more direct signal to Sadr not to seek Maliki's ouster, the grand ayatollah on Sunday issued a fatwa declaring it haram (religiously forbidden) for any of his followers in government "to vote on the side of a secular person" -- a label that might be applied to all three of Sadr's primary allies in the push to bring down Maliki: Iraqiya List leader Ayad Allawi, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, and Parliament Speaker Usama al-Nujayfi.

According to the AP, a Maliki aide said that the prime minister was waiting to see how Sadr would respond to the fatwa. The same aide observed the ironic fact that the Iranian and U.S. ambassadors find themselves both working to prop up the current Iraqi government, if only to avoid having the country descend into political chaos. By the aide's account, each ambassador has appealed to Ammar al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq -- by some measures the country's largest Shia political group -- to facilitate a dialogue aimed at warding off a no-confidence vote.

For more on the relationship between Iraq and the Islamic Republic, see Iran after the Iraq Pullout and Iran Primer: Iran and Iraq.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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