December 10, 2004

Whither the Iranian Puppets?

On a related note, I'm not entirely convinced that the Shiite unified list that will dominate the new Iraqi government will be so influenced by pro-Iranian fundamentalists. Look at who the likely new Shiite leaders are going to be. There's Hussein Shahrastani, a former nuclear scientist and a moderate close to Sistani. There's Ahmed Chalabi, who could be an Iranian stooge, but mostly seems to pledge allegiance only to himself. Adel Abdul Mahdi, the current Finance Minister, is going to have a prominent role -- he's another moderate, and a shrewd capitalist to boot. Same with Ibrahim al-Jaaferi, a pro-Western technocrat who hails from al-Da'wa party -- which officially opposes the Iranian concept of vilyat al-faqih or rule by clerics. I'm not sure if Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, the current national security adviser, is on the list; I bet he is -- if so, he's a very pragmatic leader who's committed to pluralism and has a lot of links to the exile community, along with his personal friendship to Sistani.

The wild card here is Abdul al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and the first name on the slate. SCIRI's pro-Iranian leanings are subject to some debate, I think. The party originally broke away from Da'wa precisely because its followers believed in Iranian-style clerical rule. Aziz al-Hakim has publicly praised the vilyat al-faqih before, but one of SCIRI's prominent scholars, Hamid al-Bayati, has said that clerical rule would be "inappropriate for Iraq." Meanwhile, SCIRI defied Tehran hardliners in early 2003 by backing the American invasion.

So I don't know. I'll have to see the full list (where can I find one anyways?) but I don't see the dark grip of Tehran here. Reports have also indicated that Sistani put a lot of independent candidates on the list, unaffiliated with anyone party, which would make it hard for Iran to exercise a good deal of influence. I'm sticking with my theory that Iran's hawkish mullahs will generally aim to destabilize Iraq (hence the support for Ansar al-Islam and other Sunni terrorist groups) and won't be overly psyched for this bunch.

(I also think Allawi's going to throw a serious judo flip on the whole process pretty soon. They are, after all, counting the absentee ballots in Amman, where the Hashemite monarchy has to be aching for Allawi to stay in power.)
-- Brad Plumer 6:40 PM || ||