Yesterday, during his appearance at the Institute for the Study of War, I had a chance to ask General Ray Odierno, the US commander in Iraq, about the role of Iran in the recent purge of nearly 500 Iraqi candidates on trumped-up charges that they are Baathists. Odierno avoided diplomatic niceties and blamed Iran, Ahmed Chalabi, and Ali al-Lami by name.

Lami is the executive director of the de-Baathification commission in Iraq, now reemerged as the Accountability and Justice Commission, overseen by Chalabi. On January 14, the AJC ruled that hundreds of Iraqi candidates would be barred from running for office, including some very prominent secular politicians opposed to Iran. I asked General Odierno to clarify Lami’s ties to Iran, and why he’d been arrested by US forces in 2008.

From the transcript:

DREYFUSS "I’m Bob Dreyfuss with The Nation magazine. [I want to ask about] Ali al-Lami, who was arrested by the U.S. a year and a half ago. And I was wondering if you could kind of clear up who this guy is and what his connections to Iran are and why he was arrested and why he was freed."

ODIERNO "Al-Lami is a Sadr’ist by trade. He was arrested after an operation in Sadr City where both Iraqi security forces, U.S. civilians, and U.S. soldiers were leaving a meeting that they had with the local government in Sadr City, and their vehicles were attacked with IEDs as they left the meeting.

"There were some accusations. We had some intelligence that said that al-Lami was the one who directed these attacks on these individuals. He was released in August of ’09 as part of the drawdown of our detention facilities because we did not have the actual prosecutorial evidence in order to bring him in front of a court of law in Iraq. All we had was intelligence that linked him to this attack. So, as we had some others, we had to release him. He has been involved in very nefarious activities in Iraq for some time. It is disappointing that somebody like him was in fact put in charge or has been able to run this commission inside of Iraq, in my opinion.

"He is — him and Chalabi clearly are influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence that tells us that. They’ve had several meetings in Iran, meeting with a man named Mohandas, which is an ex-council representative member — still is a council representative member — who was on the terrorist watch list for a bombing in Kuwait in the 1980s. They are tied to him. He sits at the right-hand side of the Quds Force commandant, Qassem Soleimani. And we believe they’re absolutely involved in influencing the outcome of the election. And it’s concerning that they’ve been able to do that over time.

"Chalabi, who — you know, has been involved in Iraqi politics in many different ways over the last seven years, mostly bad."

I also asked Odierno whether Lami is tied to the League of the Righteous, a Shiite terrorist group that is widely seen as an arm of Iran’s Qods Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that is responsible for the IRGC’s external operations, including Iraq:

ODIERNO: "Yeah. I’m not going to — it’s not clear, so I won’t comment on that." 

As I’ve noted recently in this blog, the AJC’s anti-Baathist purge, which has struck hundreds of Iraqis with only tenuous connections to the former regime, has threatened to unravel the entire Iraqi political fabric and restart sectarian violence. The Iranians aren’t shy about taking credit for it, either, linking the United States to the Baath as part of some (nonexistent) anti-Iran plot. Last week, for instance, in his speech on the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 revolution, President Ahmadinejad said:

"Why do you [United States] want to impose your will and Baathists on Iraq and regional nations?"

Tariq al-Hashemi, the vice president of Iraq and a leading Sunni politician who has joined with the campaign of Iyad Allawi, wrote a protest to the Iranian ambassador in Iraq about the speech by Ahmadinejad and Iran’s blatant interference in Iraqi affairs.