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Iraq must free itself from Iran’s ‘firm fist,’ lawmaker says

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ImageBloomberg: Iraq must free itself from Iranian influence through national elections in order to preserve its sovereignty, an Iraqi lawmaker said. By Caroline Alexander

ImageDec. 11 (Bloomberg) — Iraq must free itself from Iranian influence through national elections in order to preserve its sovereignty, an Iraqi lawmaker said.

“Our compass is clear,” Ayad Jamal Aldin, whose Ahrar party is contesting parliamentary seats in the nationwide vote set for March 7, said today in an interview in London. “The real danger in Iraq is Iran. It controls Iraq with a firm fist.”

Senior U.S. officials repeatedly have accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq by equipping and financing militants who have killed American forces. The number two U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Charles Jacoby, yesterday said that he has detected Iran’s sway in Iraq’s political, military and economic domains.

“The Iranian regime will continue to be a problem with a nuclear weapon or not, with interference in Iraq or not,” Aldin said. “The problem is that the regime believes it represents God. If this goes unchecked, its influence will extend to Morocco.”

The U.S. can help “liberate” Iraq from Iran by admitting that it erred in backing Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric in Iraq, after the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, Aldin said. In the last parliamentary vote, in 2005, the National Iraqi Alliance, a religious Shiite-led coalition endorsed by al-Sistani that had strong ties with Iran, took the most seats.

“The Americans allowed him to have a role and that was one of their biggest mistakes,” Aldin said. “It was through al- Sistani that Iran was able to invade Iraq.”

Tackle Corruption

Iraq shares a border with Iran, and both countries are majority Shiite nations.

Aldin, a 48-year-old Shiite Muslim cleric, says his party wants to tackle corruption and create a strong, secure and liberated nation for all Iraqis. He also wants a secular state.

Aldin said the platform reflects a more widespread shift in Iraqi politics away from religion and sectarianism toward secularism and nationalism. The trend may boost U.S. hopes that a stable government will emerge from the vote that will be able to create peace and clear the way for a planned withdrawal of American combat troops in August 2010.

Ahrar was formed in 2004. Its 1,200 party members include Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and Turkmen representatives, Aldin said. Among them are university professors, social activists and football players. Aldin said he thinks his party can win at least 35 seats in the 325-seat strong assembly.

Iraq War Inquiry

The lawmaker is in London to meet with British lawmakers and members of the expatriate community, and to attend an inquiry into the Iraq war.

The U.S.-led invasion was backed by the U.K.’s then-Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sent 40,000 troops to the country, the second largest contingent behind America’s. As many as 103,162 civilians died in fighting following the invasion, according to Iraq Body Count.

Violence peaked from 2005 to 2006, bringing Iraq to the brink of civil war, before falling to its lowest level since the invasion last month, according to U.S. military data.

Still, continuing attacks highlight “the militarization” of Iraqi society through more than two decades of conflict, Aldin said. Unrest will go on until there is a strong central government, he said. More than 100 people were killed a spate of bombings in Baghdad on Dec. 8, the third mass-casualty attack in the capital since August.

“Kurdistan is like an independent country, and there are many other places over which the government has no control — Basra, Karbala, Najaf, Mosul,” he said. Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki controls only Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, he added.

‘Warring Factions’

The lawmaker says his main aim is to bring about reconciliation amongst “warring factions” and that to achieve this he would talk to Baathists, supporters of Hussein, who was executed in December 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity.

“The war in Iraq is not between sects or ethnic or social groups,” he said. “It is between those that have power, and those who lost it.”

In the 2005 vote, Aldin was elected as one of the 25 lawmakers on the Iraqi National List led by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. He withdrew his party from the alliance this year, saying he was disenchanted with what he said were Allawi’s overtures to Iran.

Aldin said he won’t enter any coalition until after the election, and declined to say which groups he felt he could join, while ruling out any links with Ammar al-Hakim, who leads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. That Shiite party holds the most seats in parliament and is in a coalition that will run in the elections. Aldin said he believed that al-Hakim would never free himself of Iranian influence.

Aldin was born June 5, 1961, in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. He studied the Koran and Islamic law for eight years and earned a masters degree in Philosophy from the University of Qom, in Iran. He moved to Dubai in 1995 before returning to Iraq in 2003. He lives in Baghdad.

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