2. Riyadh and Tehran at Cross Purposes in Post-Election Baghdad
The experts commissioned by US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to assess what the post-election future holds in store strongly advise utilizing the Sunni minority’s invaluable experience in government to put the country on a stable footing. While this group, which ruled the country under Saddam Hussein, boycotted the election and its combatants are tainted by collaborating with al Qaeda and the terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, they are eminently qualified to run the civil service and financial sector.
Sunnis should therefore be admitted to public service as soon as possible – if only to foil a Shiite takeover of government.
But this role should also be seen in a broader context. Sunni politicians can count on strong backing and funding for occupying positions in the new regime in Baghdad from coreligionist Saudi Arabia. The Saudis own a vested interest in preventing the Shiite branch of Islam spreading from Tehran to Baghdad. Saudi Wahhabists view Shiites as deviants from the true faith. Back in the 1980s, they shelled out billions of dollars to fund the Afghan mujahideen fighting to overthrow the Moscow-backed Communist regime in Kabul.
Riyadh backed the Taliban rulers to the hilt – up until 9/11.
Now, the Saudis are willing to intervene in Baghdad to prevent the Shiites from monopolizing government and realizing their worst fear: the establishment of a strong and threatening Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian alliance. Hence their deep pockets for buying Iraqi Sunni political factions a significant slice of government.
Who are Iran‘s clandestine agents?
The danger of an Iraqi Shiite alliance with Iran is not great, according to the experts consulted by state department aides. Iraqi Shiites doe not buy Iran’s paternalism. In fact they regard themselves as the superiors of the Iranian Muslim “Ajami” (converts), the authentic, original Muslim Arabs and guardians of their Shiite sect. Therefore, an alliance with Iran based on religion for establishing a fundamentalist Shiite state stretching from Afghanistan to the Arabia is not on. It would not be countenanced anyway, because such a state would confer on the Iranian holy city Qom equal status with Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, two holy cities that have been the center of Shiite world leadership since Islam was in its infancy.
Iraqi Shiites do not take instructions from Iran, home to “Ajami” – “foreigners and simpletons” – conveniently glossing over the fact that the most respected Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was born in the Sistan province of Iran.
At the same time, the massive presence of hundreds of thousands of Iranians who infiltrated Iraq since 1993 must be taken into account by US policymakers. They are a ready-made fifth column that can be activated from Tehran.
Furthermore, Tehran created two of the Shiite parties that ran for election in Sistani’s United Iraqi Alliance and came out on top. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was formed by Iran as an exile group to fight Saddam Hussein and its leaders spent many years in Iran. SCIRI’s Hojjat-ol Eslam Abdel-Aziz Hakim ran in Iraq’s election at the head of Sistani’s United Iraqi Alliance. No one knows today how close he remains to the regime in Tehran.
The same question hangs over Ad-Daawa, whose leaders likewise lived in exile in Iran for two decades. This faction also won a share in governing Iraq at the polls, In recent months, the party made a strong show of independence when faced with dictates from Iran.