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Islamic Dawa Party

Islamic Dawa Party: Iraq Steps Out of Iran’s Shadow

Islamic Dawa Party 44%

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Nuri al-Maliki wants to keep Tehran at bay.

Decades later, the memory still rankles Iraq's prime minister. Nuri al-Maliki was an exile in southern Iran at the time, running covert Iraqi networks against Saddam Hussein, and Iran and Iraq were at war. Maliki needed official Iranian clearance to enter the border area, but Maliki's Iranian handlers liked to make life difficult: one of them announced that a pass could be obtained only from another Iranian official, a 12-hour drive away in blustery winter weather. When the road-weary Maliki finally got there, his application was summarily rejected.

In isolation, the incident might have been merely a nuisance, but to Maliki it was just another piece in a vast pattern of condescension and sabotage by the Iranians. Years after being sent on that fool's errand, Maliki spotted the former handler from a distance at an official function in Damascus. As the prime minister recounts the story now, according to his ally Sami al-Askari, Maliki quietly warned a friend: "If he comes near me, I'll take my shoes off and hit him in the head."

 

With America's involvement in Iraq beginning to wind down, many Westerners share the concern of Arab leaders that the big winner will be Iran. Maliki's domestic opponents, the Sunni hardliners especially, already complain that his Shia-led administration is a proxy for its coreligionists in Tehran—that "an Iranian government" controls Iraq. And the fact is that the Iranians now exert more influence inside Iraq than they have for centuries. The leverage takes many forms: not only cross-border trade and direct lobbying by envoys in Baghdad, but also covert links to Shia militants and assassination teams. Even so, Iraq's leaders are scarcely inclined to take orders from Tehran. They're Arabs, not Persians, and they've learned what confidants say Maliki long ago found out the hard way: Iran rigorously pursues its own national interests, regardless of their shared Shia faith. The Iraqis respond in kind: Maliki's government uses the Iranian threat as a way to extract concessions from Iraq's nervous Arab neighbors and the West—if they don't help Maliki, the Iranians will. Nevertheless, the prime minister's personal view might be better summe. up in an old Iraqi proverb he's been known to quote when speaking of Baghdad's "friends" in Tehran: "They'll take you to the water and bring you back thirsty."

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Source: NEWSWEEK - Jun 6, 2009


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