Iran negotiating behind-the-scenes deal for pro-Tehran govt in Iraq

Tehran, Oct 18 (ANI): Iran has, in a behind-the-scenes move, reportedly negotiated a critical deal with its regional neighbours that could help install a pro-Tehran government in Iraq, a move that would empower the country to shift from a sphere of western influence.

According to The Guardian, the deal that involved Syria and Hezbollah-a Shi'a Islamist political and paramilitary organisation in Lebanon, positions Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as a frontrunner to return as leader despite a seven-month stalemate between Iraq's feuding political blocs.

It further positions Iran as a potential dampener to US interests, especially at a time when America is trying to change its relationship with Iraq from military overlords to civilian partners.

The Iranian campaign reportedly began in early September.

According to sources, Iran saw their opportunity at a time when the US had just withdrawn its last dedicated combat units from Iraq, but left behind a political vacuum with no government in place after the March elections, leading to a split parliament, the paper said.

"The Iranians were holding out until then. They were not going to give the Americans the satisfaction of leaving on a good note," the source said.

Within days of the withdrawal, the Iranians reportedly told Sadr to reconsider his position as a staunch opponent of Maliki. Sadr's party in Iraq had won more than 10 percent of the 325 seats at the elections, making him a powerbroker in the formation of any new government.

Just days after the Iranian move Maliki sent his chief of staff to Qom along with a key leader in his Dawa party, Abdul Halim al-Zuhairi. They were joined by a senior figure in Lebanese Hezbollah's politburo, Mohamed Kawtharani, and an arch-US enemy General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Al-Quds Brigades, the paper reports.

In the following three weeks Ahmadinejad reportedly changed Assad's view of Maliki, which resulted in Assad's visit to Tehran the day after the Sadrist support for Maliki was announced, the paper added.

The source also said that two other Shia Islamic spiritual leaders, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, are also believed to have endorsed the Sadrist move and added that the full withdrawal of all US troops after a security agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington at the end of 2011 was also sought by Nasrallah.

"Maliki told them he will never extend, or renew [any bases] or give any facilities to the Americans or British after the end of next year," he added.

Meanwhile, US officials have reportedly strongly said that they would lessen their involvement in Iraq if the Sadrists, who have been a key foe throughout the years of war, emerges as a significant player in any government.

A senior Obama administration official, however, said: "I would say Iraq is a sovereign government and we are not party to such discussions. With reference to the degree that Iraq's neighbours seek to play a constructive role that is something we welcome. I emphasise 'constructive'. It is not about interaction with Iraq that matters but the quality of that interaction. If it is destructive, we condemn that." (ANI)

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