Tuesday, Aug 13, 2002
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By Atul Aneja
The Iraqi President's effort to reach out to Iran has not come as a surprise, given the key role that Teheran can play in ensuring his presence at the helm in Baghdad. Analysts point out that Mr. Hussein fully realises that Iran exercises considerable influence over the Shias who comprise nearly half of Iraq's population. The Shias in Iraq are concentrated in the country's southern marshlands, in areas not far from the border with Iran.
The Iraqi regime crushed a Shia revolt at the end of the Gulf war but the population has been somewhat protected, especially from Iraqi air raids thereafter. Like the strongholds of the ethnic Kurds in the north, Iraq's southern marshes too have been declared a "no fly zone" for Iraq.
Iran exercises its influence over the Iraqi Shias as it is the headquarters for the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and its leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir Al Hakim resides in Teheran. Ayatollah Hakim derives his authority partly from the fact that he is the son of Ayatollah Muhsin Al Hakim, the spiritual leader of the Shias between 1955-1970. According to reports, Iran has contributed significantly to the training of Badr Corps, the SCIRI's military wing. The Badr corps has an estimated strength of around 10,000.
Iraq realises that Iran has given shelter to millions of Shia refugees who have crossed over in order to escape the violence at home.
Their role could be vital in any future resistance movement against Mr. Hussein. Analysts point out that by exerting influence over the SCIRI, Iran's clout inside Iraq may have stretched even further.
The SCIRI, for instance, has good relations with the ethnic Kurds and has signed an agreement with Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to fight the regime of Mr. Hussein. It has also worked out a similar arrangement with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) that is headed by Masood Barzani.
Iraqi interest in Iran has heightened as the U.S. steps up its effort to draw a broad front of Iraqi resistance. The SCIRI's Abdelaziz al Hakim is representing his organisations leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir Al Hakim, in the on-going meeting of the opposition that the U.S. Government has convened in Washington.
The PUK's Jalal Talabani and KDP's Hoshyar Zebari, representing its leader, Masood Barzani, are also part of the conclave.
But with Iran exercising considerable leverage over a large number of participants, it is unlikely that a cohesive front can emerge without Teheran's consent.
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