Iraq and Gulf Analysis

A Question for ISCI/Badr: Why Should the Next Iraqi Premier Be “Regionally Acceptable”?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 3 August 2010 17:35

A new member of parliament and a high-ranking member of the Badr corps in Wasit, Qasim al-Aaraji, made some interesting comments in an interview with the Aswat al-Iraq news agency today. Rejecting Maliki’s accession to a second term, he stressed how the next prime minister would have to be “nationally and regionally acceptable”:

“نحن نعتقد ان المالكي هو الذي يتحمل تأخر تشكيل الحكومة منذ أربعة أشهر”، مشيرا الى ان “المالكي سد الطريق أمام أعضاء دولة القانون للترشيح الى رئاسة الوزراء، ونحن على استعداد لقبول أي مرشح من القانون بديل عن المالكي، إذا كان مقبولا وطنيا وإقليميا”.

“Regionally”, Mr. Aaraji? That is a remarkable statement for someone who spent many years in Iran,  whose regime also created the Badr brigades to which Aaraji belongs. But surely, the only possible meaning of the statement is in fact “acceptable to Iran”, since Aaraji most probably is not trying to defend Saudi interests all of a sudden (it is probably also a better reflection of Iran’s true feelings about Maliki than stories that have been circulating recently in the Saudi-sponsored “pan-Arab” press where there are plenty of somewhat rabid Maliki haters). It should also serve as a reminder to Iraqiyya, which still seems to be conducting some kind of dialogue with the Shiite coalition that Aaraji is a part of – the Iraqi National Alliance, or INA – that this coalition was in fact created by Iran last May with the aim of creating a sectarian Shiite front in the 2010 parliamentary elections, except that Maliki refused to join them. Lest there be any confusion: Aaraji in another recent interview made it clear that the negotiations between INA and Iraqiyya were going nowhere because Iraqiyya was insisting on having the prime ministerial position and that it be given to their candidate, Ayad Allawi:

ذكر عضو الائتلاف الوطني قاسم الأعرجي ان العقبة الرئيسية في الحوارات بين ائتلافه والقائمة العراقية التي حالت دون التوصل الى نتيجة، هي مطالبة العراقية بالاعتراف بحقها الدستوري في تشكيل الحكومة ونيل رئاسة الوزراء.

So both Allawi and Maliki are “regionally unacceptable” according to Iran and Aaraji; the better solution, in the words of Aaraji, is a “compromise candidate” from the would-be Shiite alliance (in a recent interview the Syrian foreign minister, too, made it clear that the whole idea of black-listing individual premier candidates and attempting to exercise a “regional” veto power comes primarily from Iran). That is a pretty upbeat negotiating position for INA, which came third in the elections, with no individual candidates capable of matching the 1 million personal votes that Maliki and Allawi share between them. Should really Badr/ISCI, with less than 20 seats in parliament, be able to use the argument of “regional acceptability” generally and Tehran’s interests especially to override the wishes of so many Iraqi voters? Is it not abundantly clear that the strongest proponents of the oversized “government of national unity” with a weak prime minister intend to use this device to subvert the will of the Iraqi electorate and instead serve their own party interests and those of their regional patrons?

31 Responses to “A Question for ISCI/Badr: Why Should the Next Iraqi Premier Be “Regionally Acceptable”?”

  1. Santana said

    Visser,

    Why do you seem surprised at ISCI’s angle ? Coming in 3rd with Badr/ISCI at less than 20 seats is pathetic……their options are very limited- so a drowning man will grab on to anything.

    In my opinion any “compromise candidate” that is “regionally” acceptable as Aaraji put it…especially by Iraq’s eastern neighbor will be flagged and is bad news and has a snowball chance in hell of making it (maybe back in 2005 but not now -no way)…
    Iran wants NOTHING good for Iraq nor the region- never has and never will- it is not a Sunni- Shiite thing as some believe…The Persians hate Shiite Arabs just as much as they hate Sunni Arabs …..it is a Persian VS. Arab thing.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Santana, of course I am not surprised at their angle as such, but it is unusual to come across such an overt, public reference to the need to accommodate regional powers. Since 2008, everyone has tried to sound “watani” no matter how close they are to other powers.

  3. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    I clearly understand why Iran doesnt want Allawi. It makes sense for them to make sure Allawi does not get the PM position.

    But, I dont understand the saudi policy regarding Maliki. Yes, I am quite sure they would prefer Allawi to prevail, but that does not look like it is going to happen.

    why are they so anti-maliki? They have no problem hosting al-hakim and sadr parties who are not even ashamed to show how pro-iran they are. Maliki on the other hand has at least tried to maintain some independence. Why would saudi arabia prefer an INA puppet of iran over Maliki? The saudis could pressure Iraqiya to accept maliki and have an SOL-Iraqiya coalition where their interests will be served better than if SOL is forced to drop maliki and then SOL + INA designate somebody like adel abdul mahdi who clearly is more pro-iran than maliki.

    Are personality issues really driving this, or are their self-interests that are hidden that I am not seeing?

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, I think the reason there is bad blood between the Saudis and Maliki relates to some prominent anti-Saudi demonstrations by the Daawa party in the past. It is still strange, though, because pro-ISCI websites like Buratha use “Saudi” pretty much as a derogatory term all the time.

  5. Santana said

    Yeah- I agree that it is a break from the norm, the watani thing was not working for them so maybe they decided that some “rear-end” kissing is in order and hopefully the “Regional” power will take notice and if nothing else send more $$$ their way ……who knows…it’s like shooting in the dark…you may get something and there’s no downside cuz everyone knows that INA is very close to Iran….much closer than most people think.
    When Rafei Al-Easawwi took the Iraqiya team to Tehran last April and the NA merger was at it’s height – Qassem Suleimani (head of Quds force) said to him with a yellow smile “What do WE need you guys for? we have 159 seats……WE ???? he also asks…”why did you bring Shiites with you “?? ….to paint Iraqiya as a Sunni bloc and pave the “Istehqaqat way”

  6. Santana said

    Saudi Intel is extremely efficient and resourceful….the Saudis figured out a long time ago that Maliki is much closer to Iran than meets the eye…and yes- much closer than Adel ever will be…Maliki is VERY good at hiding that relationship…and in my opinion any positions that Iran was against that he took was coordinated with them ….”the end justifies the means” type strategy. Trust me Mohammed- the Saudis are anything but dumb.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Come on Santana, if that Maliki-Iran relationship is so secret that only Saudi agents are able to see it and in fact everything Maliki does in terms of public policy is problematic for Iran (restoring the centralised state, increasing oil output levels that will dwarf Iran within a couple of years) then surely there must be something wrong here.

  8. Santana said

    ‘(Restoring the Centralized State, increasing oil output levels…etc..” yeah right !!that hasn’t happened now has it…??? just BS to become PM again while the US is gone and then ” WHAM’ !!

  9. Reidar Visser said

    Well, certainly the concepts of the centralised state and the idea of Iraqi sovereignty (as expressed in the SOFA) made a return under Maliki in 2008-2009. Compare that with ISCI’s ideas about a Shiite region, or the Kurdish attempts at minimising Baghdad’s power, and many others who did absolutely nothing.

  10. Santana said

    Oh- I totally agree and I am not saying the other choices are great either…but what Maliki does while the U.S is next door breathing down his neck is one thing and you will see a different Maliki once they are packed up and gone….time will tell.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    Which is why it is much better to have one but not both Shiite-led alliances in coalition with Iraqiyya, since they are far more likely to develop a lasting, common Iraqi interest that way than in a situation where the pan-Shiite potential remains.

  12. Santana said

    I agree again….our debate was not about that…it was about how close Maliki is or isn’t to Iran. …Iranian influence will always be entrenched in Iraq no matter what…but if we can control that a bit than we are doing good !

  13. Ali MM said

    Saudi’s hatred of Maliki should be held up as a badge of pride for all of the Daawa Party and all Iraqis, and their acceptance if not friendship with Allawi should be considered an indelible mark of shame by all self-respecting Iraqis.

    Reidar, what are the chances now of someone from State of Law stepping up and acting as a kingslayer and offering himself forward as a replacement to Maliki. Amir al-Kanani (sadrist) was saying today that Shahrastani wants to put himself forward but is wearly of his low number of votes in the open vote system.

  14. mostafa said

    i think Qasim al-Aaraji means by “regionally acceptable” Syria then Turkey and Saudia Arabia more than Iran cuz the newly improved relationship between INA and them requires that veto on Maliki.
    Meanwhile Iran doesn’t have fears about its influence in iraq, and they only want a PM from the pan-shiite alliance who can prevent that alliance from breaking down and can face Allawi with his American-Saudi-Turki-Syrian Support

  15. Mohammed said

    Dear All:

    I believe that the best way to control iraqi influence is to have a centrist, non-sectarian leader who is capable of garnering large-scale shiite support and sunni support. Iran’s influence in Iraq is via its influence over the shiite majority. As long as the shiites in iraq feel that their neighbors are trying to return the sunni minority to rule, the shiites will cling to iran. Allawi did not really do well with shiites, and Maliki did poorly with sunnis. Between them, they have a good governing nucleus to work from.

    I think saudi arabia made a very bad political mistake in trying to isolate maliki. There is no reason for Maliki to have any loyalty to Iran, despite what claim Santana. On the contrary, via the INA, Iran has tried to undermine him. Saudi Arabia’s best bet for weakening iran’s influence is a stable, independent, iraq where shiites feel empowered and not under constant hegemony. It would be even better if Saudi Arabia could nurture the shia arabs away from Iran. Iraqi shiites do not want to play second fiddle to Iran. Najaf could emerge as a viable alternative to qom (although I know Reidar that you are somewhat unconvinced about sistani’s alleged anti-waliyat ul faqih stance).

    Although Aaraji made a comment that you and I might find outrageous, I think he is only stating the obvious of Iraqi politics. INA cannot go against Iran and support Allawi, and Iraqiya cannot go against saudi arabia and support maliki. The only logical end to this will be state of law asking maliki to step down, and some grand INA+SOL+Kurdish coalition will form with some shiite PM, and Iraqiya may or may not join with very little influence. Is such an ending preferable to saudi arabia over another term with maliki as PM and Allawi with a senior role (president, deputy PM, foreign minister, etc)?

  16. Reidar,

    This looks to me like Tehran is polishing Maliki’s credentials.

    As things are presently playing out the Iranians are unlikely to have a malleable partner in the premiership but in the competition between Maliki and Allawi better the sympathetic – if truculent – neighbor than the house-cleaning that would inevitably follow from the ascent to power of Allawi.

    Goodbye finance ministry, poor old Bolani can finally remove the sandbags and leave his office. It’s all a problem if you’re sitting in Tehran….

    I do hope the Iraqis get some decent governance out of all of this.

  17. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, in that same interview Aaraji alleges that Shahristani and Adib stand ready to replace Maliki but are being prevented from doing so.

    Adib clearly has been in the pre-merger camp all thw way, i.e. in favour of alliance with INA when Maliki had strong reservations. Not sure if he is a credible PM candidate though, since he was considered and ultimately rejected in 2006 I think mainly due to his Iranian family ties.

    I am not so sure about Shahristani, who in many ways seems closer to Maliki than Adib.

  18. Ali W said

    Santana the biggest enemy outside Iraq is the Saudis who want the shiites to be out of power even though they are the majority, and as long as the Saudi/Arab governments want that, the shiites will always remain friendly with Iran. Our biggest enemy within Iraq is not INA or Badr, its the Wahabi/Salafi cult, baathists and some of their supproters in Government.

    Reidar, there does seem to be a lot of talk about Shahristani taking over or putting himself up, but would that not psoe the same problem as Adib, that Shahristani has iranian origins?

  19. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, as far as I know the issue with Adib is more than “origins”: Several close relatives, I believe his mother and son, carry Iranian passports (some say he too does). Conversely, if I remember correctly, Shahristani is not more “Iranian” than thousand of other Iraqis, Sunnis and Shiites, whose forefathers migrated from Iran many generations ago. So even if his name may relate to an Iranian place, so does the family name of the former (Sunni) speaker of parliament, Mahmud al-Mashhadani. There are quite a few Sunni Iranian families spread across the Gulf region by the way.

    Mostafa, the Syrian foreign minister recently seemed to criticise Iran for wanting specific PM candidates, and certainly distanced himself and Damascus from the idea of promoting any particular individuals. Here is what he said:

    سوريا ترفض تفضيل فئة على أخرى لكن هناك آخرون (في إشارة منه إلى إيران) يفضلون
    (Z) على (x)
    لتولي منصب رئيس حكومة العراق وهي نقطة الخلاف معهم

    This is from Sumaria and they have done a lot of substandard and sensationalist reporting recently and you cannot really believe anything they publish anymore unless it is within quotes from a named source. So note that they inserted the reference to Iran above inside the quote, although the context of the full interview seems to lend it some credence.

  20. Santana said

    Ali, the two Iraqi neighbors that stick out the most as looking out for Iraq and it’s stability is Saudi and Turkey -they are TRUE friends!…the terrorists (Wahabi or Salafists…etc) that came into Iraq under the Qaeda flag did not come in under the blessing of the Saudi gov that’s for sure- actually their biggest support comes from Iran to this day.
    The criminal thugs and groups in Iraq are Jaish Al-Mahdi, Badr and FPS -Bayan Jabr Solagh has the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis on his hand.
    As far as the Baathists go – 99% of them are true Patriotic Iraqis that care about Iraq much more than Dawa or INA or the Sadrists or the Kurds (infact most of the Kurds don’t care about Iraq one bit)…Saddam gave the Baathists a bad name.

  21. Ali W said

    http://ar.aswataliraq.info/?p=238426

    Reidar, do you beleive this threat from INA? Adeeb has already called it a bluff.

    Could this possibly move some members with SLA to remove maliki now, if not then it shows how Maliki has become too powerful within the SLA and its members too scared to speak out.

  22. mostafa said

    Hi Reidar,
    as far as I know the Iranian law doesn’t allow Multiple citizenship.
    That means that Adib can’t have an Iranian passport.
    As for Mashhadani, are you sure he is from Mashhad in Iran? I think this name could be related to Almashahdah (a sunni town north of Baghdad)

  23. Reidar Visser said

    Ali, I don’t believe anything Bahaa al-Aaraji says. These deadlines – mostly they are “two days” although one week in this case – have come and gone again too frequently over the past months.

    Mostafa, you may well be right, although there is no shortage of examples. How about the Gailani Sunni family from Baghdad (the naqibs), doesn’t that sound Iranian? Also, lots of famous Iraqi politicians and indeed ministers are known to have dual nationalities. There was a suggestion that it be outlawed for certain kinds of political office, but I think it was rejected because so many from the post-2003 elite would be excluded.

  24. Santana said

    I agree – Bahaa Al-Aaraji is a notorious liar.

  25. Thaqalain said

    Shahristani as next Prime Minister!

    If a Britisher, a Canadian , EU Citizens can be ministers of Iraqi Government why not an Iraqi of Iranian origin be qualified as Prime Minister! If a multinational team can be cabinet of Iraq why its not allowed to agree on the most notable, honest knowledgeable member of Parliament to be given the opportunity to rule Baghdad.

  26. Ali MM said

    Yes, many Sunnis have Iranian origins but it is the Iraqi Shia who are seen as Iranian fifth columnists and descendants of Persian fire-worshippers. The Arab media and the Arab street will have a field day if an Iraqi of Iranian origins becomes PM even if his family have been in Iraq for three hundred years. I can just imagine the headline in Al-quds: Iranian becomes PM of Iraq. Of course this is a totally invalid reason to put forward against him, but I can see it being a problem for him should he become PM.

  27. Santana said

    Ali MM- The issue and fears associated with the Origin are exaggerated but also realistic sometimes…in my opinion there is nothing wrong with being from Persian origins….people are the same worldwide…the problem is when loyalty to the sect supercedes loyalty to the Country. I have had many many shiite friends tell me that the sect is more important to them than anything else and that by going against the sect is “bad karma’ or may upset the Abbas or cause future misfortunes and illnesses to their families…..etc……these are the guys to watch out for……Allawi is a shiite but a secular and doesn’t think this way…so the Arabs (Sunni and Shites) rallied behind his victory. A leader with proven loyalties to his Country
    will not be derailed by prejudiced fanatics regardless of ancestory.
    Eisenhower (German Origin) brought down Germany- no one ever questioned his loyalty to the U.S.and that’s they way it should be.

  28. Ali MM said

    It’s alright with you though when loyalty to the ummah (Arabs), loyalty to the party (Baath), loyalty to the tribes (Tikritis, Anis, Rawis etc.) and loyalty to the president (Saddam) trumps any sort of national interest including people’s lives.

  29. Reidar Visser said

    Ok guys, take it easy please. There is a more recent post where you can discuss the intention of the so-called international community to foster a system of proportional ethno-sectarian power-sharing in Iraq and basically make you all into Yazidis and similar categories!

  30. Well mediated there Reidar:)

  31. Salah said

    Santana the biggest enemy outside Iraq is the Saudis who want the shiites to be out of power even though they are the majority,

    The very basic fact here they are NOT a majority?

    The Kurds counted as an ethnic group while if they count on the same as others of religious sec then there is no majority.
    Words are easy to be twisting but facts hard to be beaten.

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