As Gilda Radner used to say, never mind.
The media bureau of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI, issued a statement late Saturday correcting what it described as “dubious remarks attributed to senior SCIRI officials” and “inaccurate analysis” made by media outlets, referring to reports that the party would distance itself from neighboring Iran. The statement said that SIIC wished to stress the independence of its political decision and that its new platform is not directed “against” anyone…
SIIC’s statement had also made no mention that it would cease following the religious guidance of Iran’s Supreme Jurisprudent Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as its “source of emulation,” or replace it with that of Iraq’s top Sh’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, as several media outlets had reported.
Here’s the original Reuters story, which quoted several unnamed party officials trumpeting the party’s reorientation towards Sistani. Hard to see how the analysis was inaccurate:
They said the party had been close to Sistani for some time, but a two-day conference on Baghdad that ended on Friday had formalised relations with the influential cleric…
Officials said the party, which was formed in Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam, had previously taken its guidance from the religious establishment of Welayat al Faqih, led by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran.
Whether it’s true or not, the fact that they’re publicly downplaying it and reasserting support for Iran explodes my theory that this is a PR ploy to claim the mantle of Shiite nationalism from Sadr. In which case, what’s the point of the name change? I guess it could be that they really have abandoned their aspirations for Iranian-style clerical rule in Iraq and want to reflect that fact, but their religious loyalty still runs towards Khamenei (thanks no doubt in part to the funding they’re getting from him). If so, this is still a huge story, as it would mean the biggest proponents for Iraqi mullahcracy have changed their minds. But, er, why would they have changed their minds? I’ll keep an eye on it.
Meanwhile, (mostly) good news:
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to give Sunnis a bigger role in security operations in their areas, lawmakers said Sunday, in a deal that staves off a threatened Sunni walkout that could have toppled the Shiite leader’s embattled government.
The deal reached with Iraq’s Sunni vice president could help assuage long-standing Sunni complaints that Shiite-dominated security forces unfairly target Sunni areas but avoid cracking down on Shiite militias linked to influential politicians…
Under the terms, al-Hashemi will have an “executive role” in the fight against insurgents in Sunni areas inside and outside the capital of Baghdad, the lawmakers said. Al-Maliki remains the armed forces’ commander in chief, they said…
One Sunni Arab politician, Omar Abdul-Sattar, said 11,000 volunteers from Sunni areas west of the capital have been waiting for months to hear news about their applications to join the army.
It’s not a formal agreement, just an “understanding,” so who knows how it long it’ll hold. It does at least, however, head off the threat made a few days ago by Hashemi to pull out of the coalition within the week if Maliki didn’t bring the militias into line. Bringing the Sunnis into the security establishment has done wonders in Anbar, so there’s cause for optimism here. And cause for pessimism, too, which is why I say it’s only mostly good news: Hashemi is a proponent of talking to the insurgents (“they’re just part of the … communities”), Al Qaeda notably excepted, even though his own brother and sister were gunned down last year when he joined the cabinet. That last link mentions that his party, the largest Sunni faction in Iraq, has “apparent connections” to some of them, so this deal could amount to putting jihadi sympathizers in charge of policing jihadis. On the other hand, Salam al-Zubaie, the Sunni deputy PM who survived an assassination attempt earlier this year, also had connections to the insurgency but was allegedly using them to coax resistance-types away from AQ and towards a political settlement. So how this new arragement cuts depends largely upon the purity of Hashemi’s motives. How lucky do you feel?
Finally, Iran’s foreign ministry confirmed today that it’ll meet with U.S. diplomats in Baghdad within the next few weeks to talk about Iraq (but not the nuclear program). I’m surprised — their mounting paranoia has led them to act less agreeable lately, not more.