Iraq: SCIRI breaks with Tehran?
Iraq's most powerful Shi'ite party, Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has announced key changes to its platform, moving closer to Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani—and away from Iran, where the party was formed in the 1980s to oppose Saddam Hussein. Under the new platform, the party will continue to receive guidance from the Shi'ite religious establishment—but more from Sistani, as opposed to Iran's Welayat al-Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Islamic experts say the authority of the Faqih, who "surpasses all others in knowledge" of Islamic law and justice–known as a marja'a–is not limited to Khamenei's home country but to all Shi'ites who pledge obedience.
Sistani, a reclusive but influential figure who lives in Najaf, is the spiritual leader of Iraq's majority Shi'ites. He rarely makes public statements, but his utterances are closely monitored by his followers.
In a statement, SCIRI said it had concluded a two-day meeting in Baghdad May 11, where "significant decisions" were taken on policy changes—including a change of its name, removing the word "Revolution." "Our name will change to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council," a spokesman told Reuters, saying that since the fall of Saddam the revolution has been acheived.
Since the fall of Saddam, SCIRI has been a key player in Iraqi politics. It is a member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ruling Shi'ite Alliance, and currently holds around a quarter of the seats in parliament. SCIRI's leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, is a powerful cleric who has increasingly warm relations with Washington. (Reuters, May 11)
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim visited with Bush at the White House in December. Their public comments included much requisite homage to building democracy in Iraq, but significantly lacked any mention of Iran. (White House press release, Dec. 4)
Meanwhile, rival Shi'ite militant leader Moktada al-Sadr, who recently broke with the Iraqi government, is believed by the US State Department to be in Iran. "We know he's out of the country, we don't (merely) think" so, said David Satterfield, Condoleezza Rice's top adviser for Iraq. "He's in Iran, which is where he has been since mid-January."
In an interview with AP, Satterfield asserted that al-Sadr has suffered political reversals in recent months. "I can't speculate on why Muqtada al-Sadr has chosen to reside in Iran," Satterfield said. "I can only note the political circumstances." (IranMania, May 12)
Traditionally, SCIRI has been the pro-Iran faction in Iraq, while Sadr's forces have represented an independent and more Arab-nationalist wing of the Shi'ite militant movement. Have these roles now changed? Has SCIRI been wooed away from Tehran by the promise of US support—while Sadr has been wooed into Tehran's camp out of a mutual enmity for the US, and its growing hold on the Baghdad regime?