Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began his visit to Tehran early on October 18, meeting first with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and then with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Maliki’s visit is yet another ominous indication that Western governments with a stake in the Iraqi elections face competition from Iran for the outcome of the effort to form a unity government.
The Iranian government is already celebrating Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon last week as proof that “Iran is on top” in the Middle East, not Europe or the United States, according to a senior Iranian MP quoted in Fars News, a semi-official news agency with links to the IRGC. Consequently, Maliki’s visit is being heralded as another sign of Iran’s triumphant foreign policy in the Iranian state-owned or affiliated press.
Indeed, Maliki’s own rhetoric during the meetings stressed the Iraqi government’s ties with Iran: “Iraq’s relations with the Islamic Republic are strategic and on top of our relations with other states,” Maliki declared, according to Fars News. This statement is a not-so-subtle signal to the United States that Maliki is not inclined to form a government with secularist leader Ayad Allawi, instead opting to use Iranian support to form a primarily Shi’a coalition. The United States, hoping to avert sectarian conflict, is urging a secular rather than Shi’a government which satisfies Sunni Arab and Kurdish demands for inclusion.
Iran played a pivotal role in shaping Maliki’s nascent government, using its spiritual authority to urge the influential Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful Shi’a cleric, to lend his support to Maliki. As a result, Maliki’s number of seats in parliament is far closer to that which is required to form a government.
Thus, while the United States urges Maliki to gradually build a secular government, Iran’s leadership is urging the various Iraqi factions to hurry up and support Maliki. Ayatollah Khamenei repeatedly emphasized in his meeting with Maliki, “All Iraqi officials and politicians and those who care for Iraq should focus their efforts on the swift formation of a unity government,” according to www.khamenei.ir, the official website of the Supreme Leader. Khamenei also urged the rejection of the influence of the United States or other Western governments. Ahmadinejad continued in the same vein, asserting that the Middle East can be managed by Middle Eastern nations without interference.
Maliki returned the favor by declaring that “Iraq pursues increasing relations with Iran in all fields.” According to Iran’s official English-language agency, PressTV, Maliki also praised Ahmadinejad’s recent trip to Lebanon: “During your visit to Lebanon, the Zionist regime [of Israel] was on high [military] alert, which proved they are really cowards,” he declared.
Just days previous to Maliki’s visit, his secularist rival Ayad Allawi accused Iran in a CNN interview of actively manipulating Iraqi politics, while sponsoring destabilizing terrorist groups across the region.