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IRQ Shiite Proxy

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Iraq: Transforming Iran's Shiite Proxy, Assisting the United States

Stratfor: Global Intelligence Brief - May 11, 2007

 

Summary

 

Iran's main Iraqi Shiite proxy announced May 11 it is about to

undergo a process of "Iraqization." The move is part of Tehran's

detailed offer to assist the United States in stabilizing Iraq. A

fresh power-sharing agreement likely will emerge out of this

process -- one that will lead to an increase in the Sunni share of

the Iraqi political pie, but could upset the Kurds.

 

Analysis

 

Officials from Iraq's largest and most pro-Iranian Shiite party,

the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), on May

11 said the group will make significant changes to its platform.

These include seeking greater guidance from the country's top

cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. This is a symbolic shift

from SCIRI's current platform, under which the group primarily

seeks guidance from the Velayat-e-Faqih, led by Supreme Leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.

 

Following the conclusion of a two-day meeting in Baghdad, an

unnamed senior SCIRI official described the move as the

"Iraqization" of the country's Shiite Islamist groups. The official

added that "significant decisions" pertaining to domestic, regional

and international issues were agreed upon during the meeting and

will be announced May 12. Among the changes to the group will be

changing its name to Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council -- removing the

word "revolution" because of the negative connotations it entails,

such as the Iranian connection. "There will be a change in two

aspects -- the structure of the group and also in its political

language, taking into consideration the political facts on the

ground," another official said.

 

Given SCIRI's close alignment with Iran, this move likely has

Iran's blessings, and does not represent a real split between SCIRI

and its patrons in Tehran. In fact, these details very likely were

finalized during Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani's

April 30-May 2 visit to Iraq, during which he met with al-Sistani

on May 1. Through this overhaul of SCIRI, Tehran and its main Iraqi

Shiite proxy are trying to placate the Iraqi Sunnis, who have been

clamoring that they have begun the purge of transnational jihadist

allies and are worried about the attachment of the Iraqi Shia to

Iran. The move to repackage SCIRI will likely be instrumental in

steps toward a fresh power-sharing agreement. This will involve the

Sunnis acquiring a larger stake in the political system, as is

obvious from Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi's May 10 remarks that

he is encouraged by recent developments -- just a few days after he

threatened to pull out of the government.

 

But such a fresh social contract will not necessarily lead to

security and stability in Iraq -- at least not any time soon .

This is mainly because the move to reshape SCIRI is just one part

of a much more detailed Iranian offer to work with the United

States to stabilize Iraq. For example, though Abbas Araghchi,

Iran's deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs,

says he has been misquoted, he has not denied saying Tehran is

willing to assist Washington achieve an "honorable" exit from Iraq.

It is this U.S.-Iranian cooperation that has the Iraqi Sunnis and

their allies among the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia)

worried that even after making concessions to the Sunnis, Iraq will

be dominated by Shia -- and, by extension, Iran.

 

According to the May 5 issue of the Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al

Hayat, during the May 4 international meeting on Iraq in Sharm

el-Sheikh , Egypt, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki put

forward a preliminary proposal on how to put Iraq back together. In

this proposal, the Iranians for the first time offered to use their

influence to rein in Shiite militia activity, a key Sunni demand.

But in return, the Iranians have demanded that once the Iraqi

military takes over security from U.S. forces, it should not be

given any weapons affording it offensive capabilities -- an issue

noted with great alarm in the May 10 issue of Al Hayat.

 

The Iranians also are in favor of constitutional amendments that

would increase the Sunni share in government to as much as 40

percent while retaining 60 percent for the Shia. Furthermore,

Tehran has expressed its willingness to hold fresh parliamentary

elections. In other words, it has signaled a willingness to go

beyond a mere Cabinet reshuffle, agreeing to alterations to the

Iraqi state's current structure in order to accommodate the Sunnis

-- which likely will upset the Kurdish side of the triangular

ethno-sectarian arrangement.

 

Here again, the Iranians are motivated by their own interests. It

is true that the current Iraqi state based on the constitution

ratified Oct. 15, 2005, and the subsequent Dec. 15, 2005, elections

did not produce the desired results from the Bush administration's

viewpoint. And the outcome of the vote and the government did not

jibe with Iranian expectations either. Iran knew it could bargain

for more, hence it did not settle for the June 2006 deal under

which Iraq's security ministries were finalized .

 

Another key aspect on which the Iranians are prepared to compromise

is the future of the Baathists. This a sticking point for the

Sunnis because the elements of the former regime constitute a

significant portion of the Sunni insurgency and are the teeth of

the Sunni community. Tehran is willing to allow a review of the

de-Baathification law, but does not want to see a Baathist assume

the premiership.

 

Here, Baathist does not just mean a Sunni political figure, because

former President Saddam Hussein's ousted regime had no shortage of

Shiite officials, and the Iranians remember how the Iraqi Shia

fought against the Iranian army during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Moreover, by using the word Baathist, the Iranians are saying they

do not want any Shi'i to emerge as prime minister who is not a

pro-Iranian Islamist because the Shiite south is replete with such

individuals. This would explain the attempts at a SCIRI makeover.

 

In essence, the Iranians are prepared to make all these concessions

to satisfy the Sunnis, and more important the United States,

because the Iranians also relayed at Sharm el-Sheikh that it is in

their interest to see a planned U.S. exit from Iraq as opposed to a

rush job. Tehran knows that an abrupt U.S. departure from Iraq

could spoil its gains there because Iran would be left to clean up

the mess afterward.


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