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Last week, the U.S. removed its last full combat brigade from Iraq, bringing troop levels down to about 50,000. The withdrawal comes as the Iraqi political parties struggle to form the next government and Iran increase its efforts to control Iraq. The war isn’t over; it’s just entered a new phase.
Iran and Syria’s meddling in Iraq went into overdrive around the time of the Iraqi elections in March. The Iranians were funding two religious Shiite parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrist Movement $9 million and $8 million per month respectively. Posters criticizing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and indicating Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani had endorsed the religious parties were printed in Iran and set up in Iraq.
The Iranians are particularly fearful of the al-Iraqiya bloc led by former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a pro-American opponent of Syria and Iran. Allawi is a secular Shiite who formed an alliance with the Sunnis. Despite Iran’s best efforts, the pro-Iran religious parties lost in a huge landslide and Allawi’s bloc came in first place with al-Maliki’s bloc closely behind him.
An Iranian opposition group called the National Council of Resistance of Iran reported that Iran was planning to stop Allawi from coming to power and if he did, to instigate sectarian warfare. The group claimed it had obtained a secret document where a commander from the Revolutionary Guards’ Al-Qods Force in Baghdad boasted of carrying out 400 operations in Iraq.
Since the election, three members of Allawi’s bloc have been assassinated and several others have had attempts made on their life. Unnamed “local groups” and “regional parties” were blamed for an attempt to assassinate Allawi that was foiled with the help of neighboring Arab countries. Damascus hosted an Iraqi Baathist conference in April to try to unite the two factions. A group called Iraqi Hamas took part in the bombing of Shiite mosques and in kidnappings and murders, and Iraqi Hezbollah has stepped up attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces. General Odierno stated that Iran is helping three Shiite extremist groups attack American bases. And recently, Abu Dura, a notorious Iranian-backed militia commander known for brutally killing thousands of Sunnis, has returned to the country.
At the same time, Iran is trying to play kingmaker as the Iraqi parties try to form a government. Iyad Allawi has actually met with Moqtada al-Sadr, the extremist militia commander who currently resides in Iran, in an attempt to get his backing in forming the next government. With al-Maliki and Allawi unable to come to a compromise, Iran’s allies in Iraq are offering themselves as the ones whose support can bring about political victory if they are included in the government coalition.
“In the end, the [Iraqi] politicians need to become more responsible, and that is something that is hard to legislate,” Dr. Larry Diamond, who was a senior advisor to the Coalition Provincial Authority that ruled Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, told FrontPage.
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