Iran Intensifies Pressure to Keep Maliki in Power
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The declared and veiled positions of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), led by Ammar Al-Hakim, differ on the subject of Nuri Al-Maliki remaining as prime minister, and Iranian influences on the council in this regard. While one leader in the council stressed, “There is substantial Iranian pressure on the council in order to support Maliki remaining in power”, Hamid Maaleh, a spokesman for the council, denied “the existence of such pressures and influence.”
According to information obtained by Asharq Al-Awsat, Iran today is strongly exerting pressure on the Shiite National Iraqi Alliance (NIA) to support the survival of Maliki and to mitigate the severity of the statements of some of its leaders, especially Muqtada Al-Sadr, who has been passionate in his support for the Sunni demonstrations.
A leader in the ISCI, who opted to remain anonymous, said, “Yes there is pressure, and strong pressure not only on the council but on the entire NIA to ensure the survival of Maliki and to support his steps.” He added, “There are leaders and blocs within the NIA who are being subjected to this influence, including the ISCI and Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, while there are other leaders and personalities who are not under this influence, most notably Muqtada Sadr, who believes that Iran has tried to tame him, but he has not fallen under their spell.” He went on to say, “Iran recently invited Mr. Sadr to an Islamic unity conference held in Tehran, in which Hakim and Jaafari participated. However Sadr, instead of accepting the invitation, sent representatives from his movement’s leadership. The NIA has also strongly attempted to persuade the leader of the Sadrist movement not to tweet outside the Shiite group.”
The ISCI leader added, “Iranian pressure is being exerted through force or economic influence. There are also Shiite leaders who consider Iran to be their political reference. Ammar Hakim has tried, and continues to converge with the leaders of the Sunni Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan, yet although he has good relations with the leaders of these countries, they are not influential.”
However, ISCI spokesman Hamid Maaleh, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat via telephone from Qom, denied that there were any “Iranian directives to Hakim with regards to supporting Maliki”. He said, “Our declared stance stresses the need for the government to respond to the legitimate demands of the demonstrators without delay or procrastination”. Regarding the demonstrators’ demand to bring down the government, Hamid Maaleh said, “the idea of replacing Maliki is not a red line that cannot be crossed; the protestors have the right to call for a change in the government and its premier. There are mechanisms to change the government and its premier, whether through parliament or through the withdrawal of opposition blocs and their ministers from government.”
For his part, Amir Al-Kanani, a member of parliament representing the Sadrist movement, stressed that “Iran’s position in support of Maliki is clear. It has been exemplified by the pressure applied by Iran and its intelligence service on Kurdish and Arab leaders, including President Jalal Talabani, in order to ensure that confidence was not withdrawn from the prime minister after the Erbil conference last year.” He warned, “Iran and America still support Maliki remaining in power, and Tehran believes that things should remain as such until the next elections. This is because of international and regional changes, particularly as Iran is being subjected to sanctions and is being semi-isolated internationally, as well as the development of the situation in Syria and Lebanon with the additional pressures there, and thus the survival of a pro-Iran government in Iraq is imperative for Tehran.”
Regarding Iranian pressure on the NIA, including the Sadrist movement, to ensure support for Maliki, Kanani said: “Everyone knows that the ISCI is close to the Islamic Republic, and Tehran’s views are respected by them. The ISCI currently operates with two different opinions, the first is declared and does not support the dismissal of Maliki and the second is veiled and is not satisfied with the prime minister.” Kanani also revealed that Iran “tried to exert pressure on Muqtada Sadr, but failed. The Sadrist leader’s statements have been clear with regards to the government and its premier. Two days ago he condemned the executive authority’s attempt to control the judiciary, when Maliki said that the federal court would not pass the parliamentary decision to limit the prime minister to two terms.” Kanani added, “Mr. Sadr’s position has been clear in supporting a withdrawal of confidence from Maliki.”