A'jad's Endless Iraq Debacle

March 8th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: A'jad's Endless Iraq Debacle

New York Post
March 8, 2008 By Amir Taheri
IT had been billed as a "triumph" for the Islamic Republic and "a slap in the face of the American Great Satan." However, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's two-day state visit to Iraq last weekend showed the limits of Iranian influence in the newly liberated country.
Weeks of hard work by Iranian emissaries and pro-Iran elements in Iraq were supposed to ensure massive crowds thronging the streets of Baghdad and throwing flowers on the path of the visiting Iranian leader. Instead, no more than a handful of Iraqis turned up for the occasion. The numbers were so low that the state-owned TV channels in Iran decided not to use the footage at all.
Instead, much larger crowds gathered to protest Ahmadinejad's visit. In the Adhamiya district of Baghdad, several thousand poured into the streets with cries of "Iranian aggressor, go home!"
The visit's highlight was supposed to be a pilgrimage to Karbala and Najaf, the "holiest" of Shiite cities in Iraq. There, Ahmadinejad was supposed to become the first Iranian government leader since 1976 to pray at the mausoleums of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali.
In the end, however, the tour was canceled amid reports that Shiite pilgrims, including thousands from Iran, were planning to demonstrate against his presence at the "holy" cities.
A more important reason motivated Ahmadinejad to drop his planned visits to Najaf - his failure to arrange an encounter with the leading ayatollahs of the "holy" city, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali-Muhammad Sistani, the leading Shiite clergyman. For a president who claims that he's the standard-bearer of a global Shiite revolution, that was one photo-op to die for.
Initially, Ahmadinejad asked that Sistani visit him at a villa that once housed the Iranian consul-general in Najaf. This is because Ahmadinejad, as Islamic Republic president, mustn't acknowledge the supremacy of any cleric apart from Ali Khamenei, the Iranian "Supreme Guide." Under Iranian protocol, the president goes to the "Supreme Guide other mullahs must go to the president.
But Sistani wasn't prepared to go to Ahmadinejad. That would have acknowledged the superiority of a secular position to a clerical one, something no grand ayatollah would do.
Eventually, a compromise was found: Ahmadinejad was to call on Sistani supposedly because the ayatollah was in poor health. This was to be an exercise in "visiting the sick," highly recommended in Islam.
At the last minute, however, Sistani's entourage insisted that there should be no pictures and that neither side should issue a statement at the end of the planned 20-minute meeting. This would've deprived Ahmadinejad of his photo op and prevented him from claiming Sistani's support for the Iranian policy in Iraq. The only solution was for Ahmadinejad not to go to Najaf at all.
The Iranian thus ended up like a devout Catholic leader who goes to Rome but fails to visit the Vatican or call on the pope.
He had already been obliged to cancel a visit to Samarra, where the "Hidden Imam" disappeared in a well on 941 AD. Ahmadinejad had hoped to visit the ruins of the golden-domed Mausoleum of the Two Imams that was bombed by al Qaeda in 2005 and 2006 and announce a plan to rebuild the mausoleum.
The project is of special importance to Ahmadinejad, who claims to be in direct contact with the "Hidden Imam." (Last year he told his Cabinet that the "Hidden Imam" had accompanied him to the United Nations and filled the General Assembly's hall with a green light during his speech.)
But two days of demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's planned visit by the people of Samarra forced him to strike the city off his itinerary.
Nor did Ahmadinejad's presence in Baghdad go as smoothly as he'd hoped. A good part of the Iraqi political elite, including Cabinet ministers and members of the parliament, boycotted functions held in his honor. Tehran has branded the boycotters as "Saddamites and Sunnis in fact, a good number of Shiite politicians, including the leaders of the Fadila (Virtue) Party, also stayed away.
Protest marches against Ahmadinejad weren't limited to predominantly Sunni Arab cities such as Mosul, Kirkuk and Fallujah. Thousands of people also turned out in Shiite-majority Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, to oppose the visit and condemn the Islamic Republic's intervention in domestic Iraqi affairs.
The visit's political side was equally disappointing for Ahmadinejad. He failed to persuade the Iraqi leaders to stop negotiations with America on long-term arrangements ensuring US commitment to new Iraq for several more years. Nor did he succeed in obtaining cast-iron guarantees that new Iraq won't seek to renegotiate aspects of the 1975 Treaty with Iran. (Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told an interviewer last year that the treaty, signed by Saddam Hussein, doesn't reflect the interests of the Iraqi people.)
Ahmadinejad's visit also failed to produce results on such perennial Irano-Iraqi problems as the fate of thousands from both sides who remain missing in action since the 1980-88 war, and plans for reopening the Shatt al-Arab border estuary to allow a revival of maritime transport in that corner of southwestern Iran.
The Iranian visitor failed on another issue close to the heart of Iran's ruling mullahs: the handover of some 4,000 members of the Mujahedin Khalq (People's Combatants), an armed Marxist-Islamist group who live under US protection in a camp northeast of Baghdad. The Iraqi leaders paid lip service to the idea of getting rid of the "terrorists" but offered no timetable for expelling them, let alone handing them over to Tehran and certain death.
Ahmadinejad had come to Iraq to show it was an Iranian playground. He ended up by showing that Iran's influence in Iraq is widely exaggerated.
To be sure, Tehran exerts influence through a number of Shiite militias it has recruited, trained and financed for years. And some insurgent groups depend on Iran as their main source of weapons, especially sophisticated explosive devices. Iran also remains Iraq's biggest trading partner and the second-biggest investor in the Iraqi economy. Iranian pilgrims account for more than 90 percent of all foreign visitors in Iraq.
Yet the visit highlighted one crucial fact: Few Iraqis wish to see their country dominated by the Khomeinist regime in Tehran.
Iraq proved too hot for Ahmadinejad. He had to get out as fast as he could.

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