Two of Iraq's Shiite Parties Denounce Iran

An Iraqi soldier readies his gun at a checkpoint in Karbala, where  battles broke out Tuesday between supporters of  a Shiite cleric and Iraqi security forces.
An Iraqi soldier readies his gun at a checkpoint in Karbala, where battles broke out Tuesday between supporters of a Shiite cleric and Iraqi security forces. (By Alaa Al-marjani -- Associated Press)
By Amit R. Paley and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, August 19, 2006

BAGHDAD, Aug. 18 -- Two Shiite Muslim parties on Friday accused Iran of instigating violence in Iraq and attempting to destabilize the country, exposing a growing rift within Iraq's largest sect that many fear will exacerbate the nation's slide into full-scale civil war.

"All of this violence is because of the Shiism in Iran," Adnan Aboudi, head of the Islamic Allegiance Party, said in a telephone interview. "There are external infiltrating fingers playing now throughout the Iraqi arena." The party is the political wing of cleric Mahmoud Abdul Ridha al-Hassani, who is virulently anti-Iranian and anti-American.

The denunciations of Iran, among the most public attacks to date by Iraqi Shiite groups, echoed the recent concern expressed by President Bush and military officials over Tehran's burgeoning influence in the Middle East. Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, has close ties to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that has been warring with Israel, as well as to several of the largest parties in Iraq's Shiite-led government.

The pointed criticism of Iran followed a spate of violent clashes this week in southern Iraq between rival Shiite factions. The unrest served as a reminder of the bitter divisions between various parties in the governing coalition, made up of some factions closely tied to Tehran and others that bitterly criticize it.

A senior official with the Fadhila bloc, a powerful Shiite religious party that controls the oil-rich city of Basra, said Friday that "Iranian individuals are trying to depose Fadhila from the government."

"Iran has many tools and individuals in the country who are doing the things that are wanted by Iran," said the official, Abdul Wahab Razouti, who declined to name those individuals or the groups they belong to.

Juan Cole, a professor of the modern Middle East at the University of Michigan, said the recriminations toward Iran were directed at two of the largest Shiite blocs in parliament, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa party. The Supreme Council was founded in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule, and it and Dawa retain strong ties to Iran.

"Those groups are often coded as Iranian puppets," said Cole, the author of the book "Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture, and History of Shiite Islam." He said many Iraqis believe that the Supreme Council and its militia, the Badr Organization, receive substantial monetary support from Tehran. "It's obviously in the interest of Iran that parties that are friendly to it remain in power in Iraq," Cole said.

He said the hostility among Shiite factions can be traced to the gap between wealthy members of parties tied to Iran, such as the Supreme Council and Dawa, and impoverished cadres of groups critical of Iran, such as followers of Hassani.

"The Shia-on-Shia violence is, in my view, to some extent a class conflict," he said.

A fuller picture emerged Friday of the latest round of violent skirmishes that broke out between Shiite factions in southern Iraq this week. It apparently began with a car garage.

Followers of Hassani, a cleric in his late thirties based in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, said they noticed a strange car last month in a garage next to the mosque where Hassani's school and office are located. Investigators later discovered that the vehicle was packed with enough explosives to destroy the entire neighborhood, Hassani supporters said. They said a cellphone, which apparently malfunctioned as the bomb detonator, was found inside the car with 17 missed calls.

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