With the reform movement gaining momentum in the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, along with measures taken by Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to achieve these reforms, a serious rift and divide inside the Shiite coalition has become visible more than ever before. Considering the fact that rooted reforms have been the demand of the senior Shiite clergy, various members of the Shiite coalition have publicly supported the reforms proposed by al-Abadi and Sadr, yet behind the scenes they continue to emphasize on the quota system of appointing ministers. This has caused major divides amongst the establishing currents of the National Alliance. Iran is extremely concerned of the Shiite coalition in Iraq crumbling, and therefore to this day Tehran has dispatched a significant number of delegations to resolve these disputes in Iraq. Significant is the fact that none of the Shiite coalition currents are willing to accept the requests raised by Iranian representatives.
In mid-March Iran sent Mullah Mohsen Araki, Secretary-General of the Global Islamic Association of Religious Access to Iraq along with a delegation. One objective of this mission was to send a message from senior Iranian religious letters to Iraq’s Shiite groups to set aside their differences and unite, or else the Sunnis will rise to power.
On March 17th Araki met with Nouri al-Maliki as Secretary-General of the Dawa Party, in which Iranian ambassador to Iraq Danaie-Far and former Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki also took part. Mullah Araki said the most important role of the Shiite groups is to maintain unity amongst the Shiites, adding this is more important than their battle against Daesh (the Arabic acronym for the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS). Maliki has said the Shiite coalition is currently lacking a leader, and each party and group is seeking their own interests and portion in the ruling circle, adding this has led to the Shiites losing their previous unity. Araki presumptuously referred to Maliki’s repressive measures during his tenure as PM and his policies against the Sadrists. “Solidarity, Islamic unity and Islamic cooperation” amongst the various currents of the Shiite coalition must be taken into consideration as an undeniable principle, adding this is a sharia duty.
Divides between Shiite political groups has been weakening the spirits of the Popular Mobilization Forces for some time now. Maliki in his meeting with Araki referred to this matter and said a number PMF commanders are asking for his presence amongst these forces to lift their spirits. Considering the low morale amongst the PMF and based on a request mentioned by Maliki, Araki, joined by Mottaki and a number of PMF commanders, went to Iraq’s Salahadin Province and delivered speeches in Arabic in an attempt to lift the PMF units’ spirits. In his speeches he described the PMF units as the pride of the pride of the Iraqi people.
Mullah Araki in all his meetings with Shiite alliance leaders, attempted to resolve their disputes. However, according to an Iranian regime official inside the Araki delegation, the divides between Shiite leaders had become too deep to be resolved by a figure of Araki’s low stature. His visit to Iraq was scheduled to last a few days and meetings were pre-arranged with all Shiite leaders. However, faced with the mounting rifts in the Shiite ‘National Alliance’, Araki listened to advice provided by the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, ended his visit short and returned to Tehran.
Iran’s assessment of the political crisis in Iraq is that the source of all these issues is the divides between various National Alliance currents, especially over Maliki himself. Considering the fact that a planned trip by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Iraq had been announced from long before, Rouhani had arrangements to see Shiite leaders, especially Muqtada Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
To prepare the grounds for Rouhani’s scheduled visit to Iraq and meeting with Shiite leaders, Iran dispatched Kamal Kharazi, head of the Foreign Relations Strategic Council and a close confidant of Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, to Iraq with the goal of meeting with Muqtada Sadr, currently considered an impetus force in Iraq. This meeting was intended to pave the path for Rouhani’s meeting with Sadr. However, despite all the efforts placed by Iran’s embassy in Iraq and the foreign ministry back in Tehran, Sadr refused to meet with Kharazi and turned down a request to meet with Rouhani. Kharazi attempted to specifically prepare these meetings with Sadr through Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari. However, all these efforts were futile, driving the entire Kharazi trip to Iraq into a complete disaster and forcing Rouhani to entirely call off this important visit.
Delivering an evaluation of his report to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Kharazi said the National Alliance in Iraq is suffering from the positions adopted by Maliki and the difference raging amongst various parties, especially due to this entity lacking a leader. The differences are too deep for Iran to simply appoint a leader and resolve the disputes, he said, adding Tehran’s should simply focus its efforts on preventing the scope of these differences from escalating. Kharazi went on to add the necessary solutions needed to prevent the Shiite coalition from crumbling would be futile without Muqtada Sadr’s participation. Maliki and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi literally have no role in Iraq’s current political atmosphere, he added in his report.
Considering the fact that healing the rifts between various groups of the Shiite coalition was part of Kharazi’s objective in his visit to Iraq, and the fact that he was unable to reach these goals, Rouhani was left with no choice but to officially cancel his visit to Iraq. Iran is deeply concerned of the recent turn of events in the political landscape of Iraq will result in a segment of the Shiite coalition distancing itself from Tehran. As a result, the mullahs will no longer enjoy full hegemony over Iraq’s Shiite parties. Internal disputes amongst the Shiite coalition and political measures carried out throughout Iraq prove the mullahs have lost their influence over Shiite parties. Iran’s weakened hegemony in Iraq is a signal of the fall of all Iraqi parties linked to Iran.
Sending Kamal Kharazi to Iraq, himself linked to Khamenei’s office, shows that the Iranian supreme leader and the Quds Force are extremely concerned of the consequences of the recent Iraqi political developments.