For years, I’ve written about Iran’s untoward influence in Iraq. Now, it appears as if Iran is making a power play, using its Iraqi allies, that could checkmate US influence in Iraq and the Persian Gulf.
Back in 2003, many observers, including me, began reporting that the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government had opened the door to the expansion of Iran’s power. Most of the exiles installed into power by the United States, including Ahmed Chalabi, had close ties to Tehran. Now, it’s paying off.
According to Iraqi sources, the decision to ban more than 500 Iraqi politicians from running in the March 7 election has been applied on a strictly sectarian basis. Although the action is based on the claim that the barred candidates are either current or former members of the Baath party, supporters of the party, or ex-officials from the Saddam-era military and intelligence service, nearly all of those barred are Sunnis, the sources say, while many former Baathists who are Shiites have been left untouched.
If the decision, by an unelected body called the so-called Justice and Accountability Commission, could destroy the elections, upend Iraq’s fledgling democracy, trigger renewed sectarian conflict, and cause the outbreak of a full-scale civil war. It’s that serious.
All this while US forces withdraw from Iraq.
The Justice and Accountability Commission is heir to the old, circa-2003 de-Baathification Commission, a McCarthyite blacklisting body set up by the neocon-domination occupation authorities after the US invasion of Iraq and headed by Ahmed Chalabi, the wheeler-dealer who was the chief proponent of the war in the 1990s and beyond and who was an intimate confidante of leading neoconservatives such as Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and various American Enterprise Institute apparatchiks such as Michael Rubin, Danielle Pletka, et al. Today, Chalabi — who spends a lot of his time in Iran, and who US military authorities believe is essentially an agent of Tehran — is still the titular leader of the Justice and Accountability Commission, which is run day-to-day by Ali Faysal al-Lami. Lami is a sectarian Shiite politician who is running on the same Shiite religious alliance in the March 7 election that was put together by Chalabi, with the support of Iran and the backing of Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Iran’s chief Iraqi ally.
The ultraconservative Tehran Times, an Iranian daily that serves as a mouthpiece for hardliners in the Iranian regime, has endorsed the commission’s decision, meanwhile describing those barred as "terrorists":
"Unfortunately, according to investigative reports, certain local Iraqi groups and individuals, who are mostly the remnants of the Baathist regime, have been complying with terrorists to wreak havoc in the country in order to prove the current Iraqi government as inefficient."
Since last summer, leading Shiite-sectarian politicians, including Chalabi, ISCI’s leaders, and others, have made pilgrimages back and forth to Tehran and Qom to put together the misnamed Iraqi National Alliance, a blatantly pro-Iran Shiite bloc. For Iran, whose regime is engaged in a life-and-death struggle at home against a resurgent opposition movement and a bitter diplomatic dispute with the United States over its nuclear program, its heavy-handed actions in Iraq might be seen as a warning. Push us too hard, the Iranians are saying, and we can make life miserable for you in Iraq.