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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.

By David Ignatius  | March 27, 2010; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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"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."

Even the excellent Ignatius forgets at times what a catastrophe the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was for the Iraqi people, hope of freedom and progress in the Middle East, and therefore what an obstacle to the mid- and long-term goals of the war on terror.

The Iraq we see today, compared to that Iraq, is nothing if not a vindication of the so-called neo-conservatives and anyone else who supported the war in the tough times. But the columnist for some reason felt the need to take at shot at the neo-cons anyway.

Posted by: Roytex | March 27, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

yada, yada, yada

Anoter election, another milesteone for Iraq...zzzz...

Wake me up when Iraq is a stable peaceful democracy.

Posted by: Supertzar | March 27, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Interesting, no mention of an American win in Iraq, just talk of an Iranian loss... very funny indeed.
I know that all Iran wants is an American loss, and that they consider a win.
I think they got it...

Posted by: Kinesics | March 27, 2010 8:09 PM | Report abuse

As usual, this piece is lacking any depth. Bringing the obedient dog may look nice on the surface, but it could spell a disaster on the long run. Remember that the country went downhill in terms of sectarian violence when the obedient dog was calling the shots after receiving the orders from his masters; of course the massacre of Falluja reflects the character of the obedient dog, who was (may still remain) on the CIA payroll.

Posted by: farid-f | March 28, 2010 5:42 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: lipservice1 | March 28, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

Baathists are sending text messages in Iraq saying "We went out through the door and came back from the window". Be careful what you wish for Mr Ignatius. Your friends in the CIA have a long history of unintended consequences.

Posted by: rogerrebeto | March 28, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

For anyone really interested in the import of Iraqi election, read Prof. Juan Cole. Mr. Ignatius has it all wrong.

Informed Comment, Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sadrists Pivotal Party, Vows Liberation of Iraq from Foreigners; Tehran attempts to Broker Alliance:

Al-Hayat reports in Arabic on the emergence of the Sadr Movement as the largest Shiite party within the Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the Iraqi National Alliance. The Free Independent (al-Ahrar) party that represented the Sadrists won 38 seats out of the 70 that the INA garnered, making the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the Islamic Virtue Party and other Shiite religious components of the list much smaller and less weightier in the coalition's deliberations.

No sooner, the article says, than the election tallies began coming in did the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki begin gradually releasing Sadrist prisoners who had been in Iraqi penitentiaries for years. Al-Hayat's sources say that in Babil Province, orders were received from the government to release members of the Sadr Movement, in an attempt to mollify that group.

Sadrist leader Liqa' Al-Yasin said that the Sadrists have now become the spinal column of the Iraqi National Alliance. He said that the movement had demonstrated that it had a large public base, and asserted that that base is cultured, aware, and abiding by the principles both of Islamic Law and the Nation. Al-Yasin said that the Sadrists would work for the liberation of Iraq and the realization of national sovereignty. [Translation: they want US troops out of their country tout de suite.] He adds that other goals are to gain the release of prisoners and to take some of the burdens off the shoulders of ordinary citizens. Sadrist leaders said that "the next phase will concentrate on political action to end the Occupation altogether."

Another Sadrist leader said that the movement has foresworn violence and that they would not take up arms again save in situation of dire necessity.

Meanwhile, al-Hayat is also reporting that a couple of days ago representatives of the Sadr Movement and of al-Maliki's State of Law met in Tehran in an Iranian-backed attempt quickly to form a new Shiite-dominated government. In Iran for the talks were President Jalal Talibani and his Shiite vice president, Adil Abdel Mahdi of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

This move underlines the way in which Iraq's election has geopolitical as well as local significance. Also that Iran is sitting pretty while the US prepares to withdraw...

All of this escaped Mr. Ignatius's post.

Posted by: tarquinis1 | March 28, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Why be critical of Mr. Ignatus, he's got a job to do and he's doing it: transmitting the hopeful line of the "agencies" that feed him with material for his columns. At least now you know they're on our side instead of on the side of Cheney's oil pals. Note that Ignatus is careful not to tar and feather any particular Iraqi Shia group as Iranian stooge as he used to do-- fed by the same "agencies-- because, maybe, he realizes that the issue is ARAB NATIONAL IRAQI UNITY, not the Shia-Sunni conflict that Maliki tried to use to his advantage. There's an Iraqi return to :WE'VE GOTTA TAKE OUR NATION BACK FROM THESE INFIDEL CRUSADERS. Allawi knows that means he'll never be the king, just as never will Chalabi; they are transatory figures. Mr. Ignatus failed to note that the Allawi vote screams at us: Mr. Obama, we're IRAQIS and we want your American butts out of here!" Finally, national sovereignty loving America replaced the slice-and-dice Procunsul Beremer; we have an utterly naive Ambassador, committed to American Principles, cutting down to size the bull-in-a-china-shop general who thinks Iraqis are for practicing your football kicks on. A lot of ex-CIA guys are putting down the booze bottles they just chug-a-lugged to the bottom to ease their "I told you so pain," and muttering: I told you, darn it, I told you way back then." GOD BLESS OUR PUNY LITTLE FOGGY BOTTOM GUY WHOSE TEETH ARE LIKE A VICE ON THE MILITARY'S BUTT ON BEHALF OF OBAMA!

Posted by: danieleteodoru | March 28, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

David Ignatius, I am not sure who is allowing you to right about subjects that is way over your head. But do you really think for a second that 4 million Sunni Arab in Iraq that we have killed their parents, kids or some member of their families, will ever forget and forgive us? Even If they forgive us would they ever side with us to support our Zionists appeasement or support our one sided policies against their brothers in the Palestine!? Do you really think that they will develop mass amnesia and invite us with open arm, once again!? Isn't that what GWB said when he started the invasion of their country?
Maybe you are hoping that they would not read news paper and ignore what is happening only 200 miles to their Easter boarders!

Get Real.

Posted by: Esther_Haman | March 28, 2010 6:42 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Ignatius, Allawi winning does not mean Iran loosing! Iran wins always, despite who is in power: Sunni, Shiite, Sectarian or Religious because of one reason: Iran is more pragmatic in Iraq than the US. The US. is now backing up Allawi and is thrilled that he won (which many Iraqis question how) only because he is sectarian! On the other we still keep hearing in America about Maliki's ties to Iran just because Maliki is Shiite and Iran too. Or Iran trying to defeat Allawi through putting its influence on the De-Baathifiaction commission, just because Iran had a war with the Baathis. Maliki's relationship with Iran is bad, and Iran's relationship with the Baathis is based on interest and not history. Iran wins because the U.S. keeps preferring alliance based on Ideology, but not performance. Allawi was weak and had a very corrupt government! And during Maliki being in power for 4 years he spent his time outside Iraq doing nothing! The Americans on the other hand have to thank Maliki for providing hope for them in Iraq! Despite all influence he had managed to a large extent to stay in one distance from Iran,America, Arab Countries, Kurds, and everybody else, not hesitating to attack (don't forget Basra)or splitting off from his own allies . He has done the first brave move to stop the sectarian alliances in Iraqi politics by running his own list which had Sunnis and well as Shiites in it separately from the Shiite coallition! Maliki should be your choice not Allawi, because he proved that he could provide, even on his own risk!

Posted by: muhammadayadhussein | March 29, 2010 8:01 AM | Report abuse

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