In Iraq's election, a defeat for Iran
Hold the fireworks for Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s former prime minister, who won his country’s election by the proverbial razor-thin margin of just two seats. It’s too early to say how --or even, if -- Allawi will be able to form the secular government of reconciliation he has promised.
But we can say one thing with certainty: The election was a stunning defeat for Iran and its spymaster, Qassem Soleimani, who commands the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. Soleimiani had spent millions trying to stop an Allawi victory. He failed. If nothing else, that shows the resiliency of Iraqi nationalism, and anti-Iranian feeling, which the Shiite religious parties who have been governing Iraq these past five years failed to crush.
Soleimani and his Quds Force waged a broad covert-action campaign, according to U.S. military commanders and de-classified U.S. intelligence documents. Their first aim was to derail Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition, by using the Iran-backed De-Baathification Commission to disqualify as many candidates as possible. Allawi’s coalition howled about the commission’s arbitrary work, but Iraqiya quickly replaced most of those who were scratched.
Iran’s second tactic was to pressure Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, to join an alliance of Shiite religious parties known as the Iraqi National Alliance. That would probably have guaranteed victory, but Maliki -- understanding that Iranian meddling was unpopular -- decided late last year to go it alone. He’s trying to join with those same Shiite parties now, in the hope of gaining the necessary 163 seats, but it’s probably too late.
The third Iranian tactic was to pump money to the two Shiite parties in the Iraqi National Alliance that it was supporting. A U.S. military commander told me in February that Iran was sending $9 million a month to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and $8 million a month to the political party of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The election result was a setback, too, for Ahmed Chalabi, former darling of the neo-conservatives in the U.S. and now one of Iran’s best friends in Iraq. According to a de-classified intelligence document I was given in February: “Iran supports de-Baathification efforts engineered by Ahmed Chalabi for the purpose of eliminating potential obstacles to Iranian influence. Chalabi is also interested in Iran’s assistance in securing the office of prime minister.”
The document noted that Chalabi met with Soleimani in Iran last November to plan strategy. I guess there won’t be any victory parties at Chalabi’s house in the Mansour district of Baghdad this weekend.
Despite its election setbacks, Iran is sure to have influence in Iraq no matter who becomes prime minister. Even Allawi is said to have made contact with Iran before the elections to assure Iranian leaders that, while he wants Iraqi sovereignty, he won’t be hostile to his neighbor.
| March 27, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Categories: Ignatius | Tags: David Ignatius
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