Iranian meddling

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Boston Globe – Editorial: It may be a positive sign that when campaigning began for elections scheduled for Jan. 30 in Iraq, the first hot-button issue raised by Iraqi politicians was the specter of Iranian influence. US officials as well as Arab leaders are breaking no new ground when they warn in public about Iranian meddling in Iraq. They are fearful of Tehran for geopolitical reasons. They don’t want Iranian-style theocracy to spread beyond Iran’s borders. Boston Globe

GLOBE EDITORIAL

IT MAY be a positive sign that when campaigning began for elections scheduled for Jan. 30 in Iraq, the first hot-button issue raised by Iraqi politicians was the specter of Iranian influence.

US officials as well as Arab leaders are breaking no new ground when they warn in public about Iranian meddling in Iraq. They are fearful of Tehran for geopolitical reasons. They don’t want Iranian-style theocracy to spread beyond Iran’s borders.

But it is an exhilarating novelty for Iraqis to be open about such a politically sensitive subject without fear of being tortured or killed.

Campaigning for the new National Assembly alongside Prime Minister Iyad Allawi last Wednesday, Iraq’s interim defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, suggested that parties represented on the electoral list of the United Iraqi Alliance — a list compiled primarily by religious Shi’ites loyal to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani — might be soft on national security because they are in thrall to Tehran.

“When we arrested the commander of Jaish Mohammed” — one of the terrorist gangs operating in Iraq — “we discovered that the key to terrorism is in Iran, which is the number one enemy for Iraq,” Shaalan said. The connection between this particular terrorist group and Tehran may or may not be authentic. But the political spin of the minister’s accusation shows that many people in Iraq harbor profound fears of Iranian influence.

That fear has less to do with ethnic or sectarian animosity than with Tehran’s political system. According to Shaalan, the Iranians “are fighting us because we want to build freedom and democracy and they want to build an Islamic dictatorship and have turbaned clerics to rule in Iraq.”

Even if Shaalan was exaggerating when he called the United Iraqi Alliance’s list of candidates “an Iranian list,” parties on that list do have links with Tehran, and some of the candidates — opponents of Saddam Hussein — had fled into exile in Iran. So the threat of Iranian meddling in the politics of a post-Ba’athist Iraq is real. Iranian agents and influence-buying funds from Tehran have been circulating in Shi’ite areas of southern Iraq.

However, the best antidote to imposition of the Iranian system in Iraq is the cleansing effect of democratic debate. Iraq’s senior Shi’ite ayatollahs have long rejected Ayatollah Khomeini’s invention of rule by a supreme clerical leader. The best barrier against undue clerical influence on Iraqi lawmaking will be a federal constitution that prevents pious politicians in one region from imposing their mores on secular Iraqis in another region.

The more Americans and Iraq’s neighbors steer clear of Iraqi arguments about Iranian influence, the more likely it is that the regime in Tehran will lose the argument.

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