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With a conventional military and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threat from Saddam Hussein's regime removed, Iran seeks, at a minimum, to ensure that Iraq can never again become a threat to Iran, whether or not there are U.S. forces present in Iraq. Some believe that Iran's intentions go far further--to try to harness Iraq to Iran's broader policy goals, such as defense against international criticism of and sanctions against Iran's nuclear program, and to enlist Iraq's help in suppressing Iranian dissidents located inside Iraq. Some believe Iran sees Iraq primarily as as providing lucrative investment opportunities and a growing market for Iranian products and contracts.
Iran has sought to achieve its goals in Iraq through several strategies: supporting pro-Iranian factions and armed militias; attempting to influence Iraqi political leaders and faction leaders; and building economic ties throughout Iraq. It is Iran's support for armed Shiite factions that most concerns U.S. officials. That Iranian activity continues to a threat to stability in Iraq, according to senior U.S. commanders, and positions Iran to pursue its interests in Iraq after U.S. forces leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Many of Iraq's current leaders were in exile in Iran or materially supported by Iran during Saddam's rule, and see Iran as a mentor and an influential actor in Iraq. Even those who have longstanding ties to Iran have asserted themselves as nationalist defenders of Iraqi interests, but Iraq appears to be a clearly subordinate partner in the relationship. Perhaps resenting this relationship, many Iraqi citizens have appeared to reject parties and factions who accept preponderant Iranian influence in Iraq. This sentiment has caused Iran to suffer key setbacks in Iraq. The most pro-Iranian factions generally fared poorly in the January 31, 2009, provincial elections and again in the March 7, 2010, national elections for the National Assembly, which chooses the government. A political bloc that is decidedly against Iranian influence and which is supported by Iraq's Sunni Arabs won the most seats in the election, although no bloc has been able, to date, to build enough support among other blocs to assemble a government. Still, virtually all political blocs are consulting with Iran to try to gain its support for their inclusion in or dominance of any new government.
Also see CRS Report RL32048, Iran: U.S. Concerns and Policy Responses, by Kenneth Katzman.
August 13, 2010
Contents Background Iranian Support to Armed Groups Shiite Internecine Conflict and the Fracturing of Sadr's Militia U.S. Efforts to Reduce Iran's Aid to Armed Groups Policy Results and Status of Iranian Militia Support Efforts Iranian Political Influence Iranian Political Influence Following the January 31, 2009, Provincial Elections Iranian Efforts to Influence the March 7, 2010, Iraqi Elections Iran's Efforts to Deny Its Domestic Opponents Sanctuary in Iraq Longstanding Territorial and Property Disputes Economic Relations Prospects Contacts Author Contact Information
Iran has sought to shape and influence the post-Saddam political structure in Iraq to Iran's advantage by assuring the political success of pro-Iranian politicians, but with mixed success. During 2003-2005, Iran calculated that it suited its interests to support the entry of Iraqi Shiite Islamist factions into an election process that the United States established in Iraq. The number of Shiites in Iraq (about 60% of the population) virtually ensured Shiite dominance of an elected government. To this extent, Iran's goals did not conflict with the U.S. objective of trying to establish representative democracy in Iraq. Iran helped assemble a Shiite Islamist bloc ("United Iraqi Alliance"), encompassing virtually all the major Shiite factions--the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the Da'wa (Islamic Call) party, and the faction of the 35-year-old cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. This formidable alliance won 128 of the 275 seats in the December 15, 2005, election for a full-term parliament. Dawa senior leader Nuri al-Maliki was selected as Prime Minister; several ISCI figures took other leadership positions, and five Sadrists were given ministerial posts.
ISCI is the Iraqi faction with the longest and closest ties to Iran. ISCI's leaders, including Ayatollah Mohammad Baqr Al Hakim, who was killed in an August 2003 car bomb in Najaf, had spent their years of exile in Iran and built ties to Iranian leaders. (1) His was succeeded as ISCI leader by his younger brother, Abd al Aziz al-Hakim, but he died of lung cancer in August 2009. He was succeeded by his son, Ammar al-Hakim. Finance Minister Bayan Jabr and other ISCI leaders, such as deputy president Adel Abd al-Mahdi and constitutional review commission chair Hummam al-Hammoudi, are other senior ISCI leaders. During Saddam's rule, ISCI fielded an underground militia, the "Badr Brigades" (renamed the "Badr Organization"), which was recruited, trained, and armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most politically powerful component of Iran's military, during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. During that war, Badr guerrillas conducted attacks from Iran into southern Iraq against Iraqi officials. It sparked an unsuccessful uprising against Saddam at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. At the time of Saddam's fall in April 2003, the Badr Brigades numbered about 15,000. During 2005-6, apparently with the active work of then Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, the militia burrowed into the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), particularly the National Police unit of the Iraqi police force. However, since 2007, the militia has become integrated into Iraq's political process and security forces.
The Sadr faction's political ties to Iran were initially limited because his family remained in Iraq during Saddam's rule. Still, the Sadr clan has political and ideological ties to Iran; Moqtada's cousin, Mohammad Baqr Al Sadr, founded the Da'wa Party in the late 1950s and was a political ally of Ayatollah Khomeini when Khomeini was in exile in Najaf (1964-1978). Baqr Al Sadr was hung by Saddam Hussein in 1980 at the start of the Da'wa Party rebellion against Saddam's regime. Moqtada is married to one of Baqr Al Sadr's daughters. Since 2008, Sadr himself has been studying in Iran to elevate his religious credentials, and running his movement from there.
Iran recognized political value and potential leverage in Sadr's …