*** THE CLEAR & PRESENT DANGER OF IRAN ***
JOURNALS & WRITTEN by Fred Kohx >
Executive Founding Member for WANTED SA >
Sunday December 05, 2010 >
WANTED SA has learned that on the following Date: 2009-11-13 12:46:00
Source Embassy Baghdad
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002992
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO LIMBERT, NEA/IR AND NEA/I. NSC FOR
TALWAR, MAGSAMEN, PHEE AND VROOMAN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/13/2019
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, TU, IR, IZ
SUBJECT: IRAN'S EFFORTS IN IRAQI ELECTORAL POLITICS
REF: BAGHDAD 2288
Classified By: Political M/C Gary A. Grappo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) SUMMARY: Iran is a dominant player in Iraq's electoral politics, and is using its close ties to Shia, Kurdish, and select Sunni figures to shape the political landscape in favor of a united Shia victory in the January election. A pro-Iran, Shia-dominated, and preferably Islamist government, led by a united Shia alliance remains Iran's top priority. Toward that end, Iran is seeking to increase pressure on Maliki to join forces with the other prominent Shia coalition (Iraqi National Alliance) led by the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). END SUMMARY
2. (S) Iran is arguably the most influential regional power seeking to shape and influence the outcome of Iraq's election. This message offers an assessment of Iran's efforts to shape Iraq's electoral politics in anticipation of the national election in January.
Iran's Policy Goals and Tools
3. (S) Iran's over-arching political objective for Iraq's January election is the re-election of a Shia-dominated, preferably Islamist, coalition led by Tehran's closest allies, notably ISCI and the Sadrist Trend under the rubric of the Iraqi National Alliance coalition (INA) (reftel). Iraq, given its proximity to Iran and its shared Shia heritage, represents a vital foreign policy priority for the Iranian government's (IRIG) efforts to project its ideology and influence in the region. An economically dependent and politically subservient Iraq would foster greater strategic depth for Tehran. Iranian president Ahmadinejad has referred to Iraq in recent press statements as "a Shia base" confronting the broader menace perpetrated by those opposed to Iraq's identity and stability (i.e., Sunni states, the West).
4. (S) Iran's approach to its bilateral relationship with Iraq ranges from political micro-management to broad strategic guidance emanating directly from Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran. The IRIG recognizes that influence in Iraq requires operational (and at times ideological) flexibility. As a result, it is not uncommon for the IRIG to finance and support competing Shia, Kurdish, and to some extent, Sunni entities, with the aim of developing the Iraqi body politic's dependency on Tehran's largesse. While exact figures are unknown, Tehran's financial assistance to Iraqi surrogates is estimated at USD 100-200 million annually, with USD 70 million going to ISCI/Badr coffers.
5. (S) Since at least 2003, Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), has been the point main directing the formulation and implementation of the IRIG's Iraq policy, with authority second only to Supreme Leader Khamenei. Through his IRGC-QF officers and Iraqi proxies in Iraq, notably Iranian Ambassador and IRGC-QF associate Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Soleimani employs the full range of diplomatic, security, intelligence, and economic tools to influence Iraqi allies and detractors in order to shape a more pro-Iran regime in Baghdad and the provinces.
6. (S) Soleimani enjoys long-standing close ties with several prominent GOI officials, including President Talabani, Vice-President Adel Abdal-Mahdi (ISCI), Prime Minister Maliki (Da'wa), former PM Jaafari, and more recently, Speaker Samarra'i (Septel reports Iranian Speaker Qrecently, Speaker Samarra'i (Septel reports Iranian Speaker Larijani's November 4-7 visit to Iraq at Samarra'i's invitation.). Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, Speaker Larijani, and former president Rafsanjani consult regularly with visiting GOI officials as part of the IRIG's broader "strategic" council of advisers seeking to influence the GOI.
7. (S) Iran's tools of influence include financial support to (and pressure on) a cross-spectrum of Iraqi parties and officials; economic development assistance, notably to religious organizations; lethal aid to select militant Shia proxies; and sanctuary to Iraqi figures fearful of USG targeting or those seeking to revitalize their political/religious credentials, most notably Moqtada al-Sadr. This leverage also extends, to a lesser extent, to select Sunni actors, including such public figures as Iraqi Speaker Samarra'i, whose September visit to Tehran included BAGHDAD 00002992 002 OF 003 meetings with several senior IRIG officials.
8. (S) Predictably, Iran is actively lobbying and recruiting Iraqis of various political stripes and affiliations, including Sunnis, in the run-up to the election to ensure a united Shia-led coalition government. Given the likelihood of a Shia-led victory in the election, Iran appears more concerned about the strength of a united Shia bloc in the post-election phase of government formation. For Iran, a "rebellious" Maliki pursuing a more nationalist vs. sectarian agenda risks splitting the Shia vote, which in turn weakens the Shia political bloc's negotiating strength during the
government formation period post-election. Iran's greatest fear for the upcoming election is a fractured Shia coalition that is unable to coalesce and thereby dominate the next government. Iran's worst-case election scenario (increasingly unrealistic) is a coup d'etat of former regime elements hostile to Tehran.
9. (S) A weak Shia coalition before or after the election would further undermine the INA and their pro-Iranian entities, notably ISCI and the Sadrist Trend. The Kurds, historically closer to ISCI, remain the important swing vote and are unlikely to reveal their true coalition intentions until after the election. As seasoned masters of the Iraqi political chessboard, Kurdish leaders such as Talabani and Barzani will likely exploit their political strength among Shia/Sunni counterparts to protect and expand Kurdish influence in a future government. Iran's historic ties to the
PUK, and to a lesser extent KDP officials, make the Kurds an important element in ensuring a pro-Iranian Shia victory in the election. INA officials are confident that the Kurds will join their coalition, all but guaranteeing an election victory. An unknown factor in national elections is the Kurdish opposition party, Goran List, under the leadership of former PUK Secretary General Nawshirwan Mustafa. Goran is committed to unseating the PUK (and Talabani) in Suleymaniyah province but needs financial backing to ensure its long-term viability in the KRG and national politics. Iran could conceivably alleviate Goran's financial woes, particularly through its close ties with the Kurdish Jaff tribe, some of whom are Goran members. However, doing so would undermine the IRIG's valued relationship with Talabani, while also proving exceedingly duplicitous, even by IRIG and KRG standards.
10. (S) It is important to note that Iran's power in Iraq, although extensive, is not without limitations. The IRIG's greatest political roadblock remains the domineering authority and religious credibility embodied in Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Despite his Iranian heritage, Sistani is Iraq's most revered Shia religious (and political) authority. A critic of Iran's "Velayet-e-Faqih" (rule of the jurisprudent) system of theocratic governance, Sistani's abstemious (aka Quietest school) approach to Shia politics has kept him well above the political fray while at the same
time ensuring him significant impact on those rare occasions when he pronounces on politics. For example, Sistani's public support for an open list ballot was instrumental in prompting ISCI, Sadrist Trend, Maliki's State of Law, and other Shia parties to follow suit, despite Tehran's preference for a closed list. Domestic political realities will continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa Qwill continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa and Sadr Trend, with close historic ties to Iran, to balance between support for a broader Iraqi-Shia agenda, as championed by Sistani, and the alternative, championed by Iran, that would subordinate Iraqi interests to Iran's broader objectives (septel).
Soft vs. Hard Power
11. (S) Following the GOI's crackdown on Iranian-supported Sadrist militias in Basrah during the "Charge of the knights" operation in March 2008, Iran has calibrated its operations in Iraq to encompass more "soft power" (economic, religious, educational) support and investment as part of a broader "hearts and minds" campaign. (NOTE: Iranian lethal aid to militant proxies continues; however, on a less visible scale. END NOTE). With annual bilateral trade estimated at USD 4 billion (up 30 percent since 2008) and comprised mostly of Iranian imports (approximately 48 percent of Iraq's imports are Iranian goods), the IRIG continues to jockey for economic domination in Iraq through targeted development assistance, focused largely on refurbishment of Shia religious shrines, BAGHDAD 00002992 003 OF 003 and trade deals and bilateral agreements aimed at fostering greater Iraqi economic dependency on Iran. This measure has been successful, largely because of Iran's geographic proximity and access to Iraqi markets that are otherwise financially or politically less appealing to other states, notably the United States, Europe, and other industrialized nations. Turkey, on the other hand, remains Iran's biggest economic competitor, particularly in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Implications for U.S. Policy
12. (S) COMMENT: Concerns about long-term U.S. influence, albeit tempered by the withdrawal deadline, continue to inform IRIG decision-making to ensure its strategic foothold in Iraq. Iran views Iraq as a natural (and more junior) strategic partner. As a result, Iran will continue to flex its muscles to ensure it's strategic outcomes are met. This should not lead to alarmist tendencies or reactions on our part. The next Iraqi government will continue to cultivate close ties with Iran given long-standing historical realities that precede Iraq's ties with the United States. On the other hand, Iran's influence in Iraq should not be overestimated. As the GOI continues to gain its footing, points of divergence between Tehran and Baghdad become increasingly evident on such sensitive bilateral issues as water, hydrocarbons, maritime borders, and political parity. Some prominent Iraqi leaders, including those with close ties to Iran (i.e., Maliki, Ammar al-Hakim) are increasingly sensitive to being labeled Iranian lackeys.
13. (S) COMMENT CONT'D: Our objective in Iraq should be less about countering all-things Iranian, and more about developing viable alternatives and approaches that gradually alter the GOI's political, economic, and social worldview. Development of viable international alternatives in Iraq is one of the most effective measures of countering Iranian ambitions and, ultimately, integrating Iraq as a constructive member of the international community. Specifically, our ongoing efforts to bolster the GOI through capacity-building and assistance within the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) and to remove Iraq from Chapter VII remain our most valuable tools in this regard. Given the value placed on the SFA by the GOI and the Iraqi public, our ability to recognize, enhance, and exploit the value of the partnership will constitute an essential element of any effort to counter "malign" Iranian influence.
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FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5418
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
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