The AP reports today that a political shakeup in Iraq has brought the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (formerly, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq) and Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc together but left the Prime Minister Maliki’s Dawa party out in the cold. The AP suggests that a Shiite political bloc that omits Dawa will increase Iranian influence in Iraq. The AP is overreaching.
Iran has been heavily involved with each of the major Iraqi Shiite parties and it is difficult to discern why the AP believes that Iran wields greater influence through SIIC and Sadr than through Dawa. Indeed, Maliki’s recent raid on the MEK base at Camp Ashraf signaled that Iran holds great sway over Prime Minister Maliki and presumably the Dawa Party. Further, Maliki and his Dawa party found refuge in Iran after the Islamic Revolution – though the independent-minded Dawa Party eventually fell out of favor with Iranian Mullahs who preferred their creation, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, over a native-Iraqi Shiite group.
Still, Iran provided safe harbor to Dawa throughout Saddam’s reign and Dawa has apparently been influenced by Iran since the US invasion of Iraq. On the other hand, Muqtada al-Sadr has spoken like and acted like an Iraqi nationalist consistently. Unlike the Hakim family, Muqtada al Sadr did not spend Saddam’s reign in exile in Iran. Sadr has also bucked Shiite norms by establishing himself as an Ayatollah without the experience and study generally necessary to earn that honorarium. His political activism diverges from the quietist philosophy of most Shiite clerics in Iran in particular. Additionally, Sadr has used his influence and forces as a foil against the American occupation of Iraq and in defense of Iraqi sovereignty, apparently without reference to Iranian goals – see, for instance, his solidarity with Iraqi Sunni insurgents in 2004 and 2005.