Egypt says wary of Iranian influence in Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul
Gheit said on Thursday that Iranian influence is introducing alien religious
ideas to Iraq, setting the stage for a sectarian civil war if U.S. troops
withdraw too soon.
U.S. forces should stay in Iraq "helping to stabilise" the country,
even if their presence attracts attacks, he told Reuters in an interview two
days before a conference in Cairo seeking to reconcile Iraqi political
"The Iranians are spreading a notion of behaviour in relation to
life, to religion, the role of religion in the state, the philosophy of the
marja'iya (Shi'ite Muslim religious authority). These are issues that Iraq
didn't have over 100 years of building a nation," the minister said.
If U.S. forces withdrew, civil war would break out and because of
"the foreign element", the war would take on a religious nature, he added.
"The foreign element is sadly not on the secular side but on the
religious side ... and when you have a religious war, it might be like the
religious wars in Europe," he said.
He said the presence of U.S. forces was different because it did not
have cultural or philosophical consequences.
"The issue is the cultural, philosophical approach to the role of
the mosque, the role of the state, the role of education, the role of women,
the role of family. Is it the Iranian model or is the model of a centrist
Islam?" he said.
Aboul Gheit was expressing fears shared by many Sunni Arab countries
about rising Shi'ite influence in Iraq and the links of some Iraqi factions
with neighbouring Shi'ite Iran.

But he declined to criticise the Tehran government directly, saying
private Iranian citizens could be spreading their ideas unwittingly while
visiting Shi'ite Muslim holy places in Iraq.
He also said that in the end it was up to Iraqis to make up their
minds about what kind of country they want to live in.
"It is the Iraqis who will decide what course they wish to see. If
they choose the Iranian model, well, that is their lot... If I am making the
choice for myself, I would not follow (the Iranian model)," he added.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has repeatedly said that U.S.
forces should stay in Iraq until the Iraqi government and security forces
can control the country. Egyptian officials rarely speak so openly about
Iranian influence.
King Abdullah of Jordan caused a stir after the invasion of Iraq
when he warned of a possible "Shi'ite crescent" developing from Iran to
Lebanon through Iraq and Syria.
Egypt and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since the 1970s but
they do have diplomatic contacts and Iran will take part in the Iraq
conference opening on Saturday.
The Arab League is hosting the event, aimed at bridging ethnic and
sectarian differences before Iraq's Dec. 15 election.
The Egyptian government warned the United States of the dangers of
invading Iraq in 2003 but, like many other Arab governments friendly towards
Washington, it does not now favour immediate U.S. withdrawal.
"Between all the ills of this situation, I think it is better to
have foreign (U.S.) forces on the ground helping to stabilise even if they
are subject to fire ... until the point we build up organs of power that
would impose themselves on the scene, until we build up internal consensus,"
Aboul Gheit said.