Iran Observes Iraqi Elections
Iran Hopes for a Renewed Victory by Shi'ite Parties in Iraq
A Shi’ite victory at the polls will complete the political process allowing this group to install themselves at the controls of power in Iraq, according to Morad Veissi, reporter and an expert in regional questions. Veissi adds that such a result benefits Iran.
The Islamic Republic, a geographical neighbor but also a source of spirituality for the majority of the Iraqi people, has adopted a low profile concerning these elections as they did on prior occasions. The official Iranian press has observed discretion and Iranian officials have refrained from hasty remarks. Such discretion is meant to deflect accusations of its interference in Iraqi affairs.
Iran has historical ties not only to the Shi’ite Iraqi parties now in power in Baghdad but also with the Kurds, whom it supported during their revolt against Saddam Hussein. Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari is a member of al-Da‘wa al-Islamiyya, a Shi’ite party created at the end of the 1950’s, found political asylum in Iran during the 1980 during the height of the Iran-Iraq War. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the main Shi’ite political party, was created in Tehran in 1982. It’s leader, Abdel Aziz Hakim, has maintained contacts with the Iranian regime.
On the other hand, Iran's relations are non-existent with Shi’ite Iyad Allawi, the first head of government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, who is presenting himself as the secular alternative with the support of Washington. The two Shi’ite groups are well-placed to win the [legislative] elections. The Shi’ites, led by Hakim and Jaafari, have a better chance of winning over Allawi, observes Veissi. The nature of the relationships binding together SCIRI to Tehran remains subject to caution. Some analysts believe that the political party of Abdel Aziz Hakim has emancipated itself since his return to Iraq while others believe that the relationship remains strong.
In any case, the victory of the Shi’ite and Kurd parties last January has had the effect of considerably warming relations between the two countries. After a visit by Iraqi head of government Ibrahim Jaafari to Tehran in July, President Jalal Talabani visited Iran in November, the first official visit of an Iraqi head of state in nearly forty years. The successive visits of the different Iraqi officials to Tehran clearly demonstrate the rapprochement between the two nations, said Mr. Veissi, according to whom Iran is the first destination in the region for Iraqi leaders.
However, several officials in Baghdad have accused Tehran of interference in Iraq’s internal affairs which the US and Britain have accused it of destabilization. President George W. Bush declared on Monday that Iraq’s neighbor to the east, Iran, is actively working to undermine a free Iraq. Iran does not want democracy to succeed in Iraq because Iraq threatens the legitimacy of the theocracy of oppression in place in Iran. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said at the beginning of December that Iran pursues a dual policy : one the one hand, it supports the Iraqi goverment and fosters economic and political ties. But on the other it works with groups fighting against the new order in Iraq.
Such a vision is contested by analysts like Mr. Veissi, who observes, As Iraqi administrations and institutions are put in place, the pretext for the American presence diminishes--and that suits the interests of Iran.