Iraq’s Shiite religious parties, most with ties to Iran, have reestablished a political bloc called the Iraqi National Alliance. Among its founders are Ahmad Chalabi, the revered darling of US neoconservatives such as Richard Perle and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute; Muqtada al-Sadr, the brooding, mercurial mullah who has mysteriously retreated to Qom, Iran’s religious capital, for quick-study lessons on how to become an ayatollah; and, of course, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, one of the founders of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which has changed its name but not its spots. SCIRI, the anchor of the new coalition, is now called the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), but it still acts as an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which founded it in 1982, and its paramilitary Badr Brigade — also a part of the new Iraqi alliance — is a terrorist unit that operates pro-Iran death squads in Iraq.
Let’s sort this out.
First of all, although Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has so far opted not to join the pan-Shiite religious alliance, American Pollyannas who see Maliki as a nationalist, pro-American ally are wrong. Like the new INA alliance, Maliki is in thrall to the Iranians, too, only slightly less so. His secretive, cult-like Dawa Party — which has split and split again — provides nearly all of his inner-circle allies and advisers, and according to Iraqi sources Maliki is heavily vested in ties to Iran and its intelligence services. He shrewdly, though unconvincingly, positioned himself and his new party, State of Law, as a pro-unity, nationalist party during the January provincial elections, but although Maliki tried to find allies among secular Iraqis, religious Sunnis, and Kurds, nearly all of his votes came from Arab Shiites. He got votes from Iraqis who were unhappy with their country’s religious-right drift and who rejected ISCI and its allies, in part by lavishing patronage to newly created tribal councils in the Shiite-majority provinces. As a result, Maliki has been riding high of late, and a well-placed former Iraqi official told me that Maliki felt strong enough to tell the founders of the Iraqi National Alliance that he’d refuse to join unless they let him run the show, with a guarantee that he’d be reelected as prime minister if the Alliance wins a majority in the January, 2010, election. Maliki may or may not have overestimated his strength, but in any case he may decide to join the Alliance at a later date — or, alternately, he might join them after the election in a coalition government. In either case, Iran will be the big winner, especially as US forces move out.
A remarkable piece by David Ignatius in the Washington Post describes how, behind the scenes, Iran is using its intelligence service and its ties to Maliki to increase its influence: