Iraq’s Most Powerful Shiite Politician Defends Iran

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq’s most powerful Shiite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, defended Iran yesterday against American allegations that it trained and equipped Shiite militias. Mr. Hakim, a key ally of Iran, said America has not provided any proof and also lamented the 73 deaths in fighting Monday between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militiamen of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, calling the clashes in the southern city of Diwaniyah “annoying and painful.”

In Baghdad, police said they found the bodies of 24 people who had apparently been tortured and shot before being dumped in two locations.

Eleven of the bullet-riddled corpses, their hands and legs bound, were found near a school in the Shiite dominated Maalif neighborhood in southern Baghdad, police said.

The bodies of another 13 people, believed to have been aged between 25 and 35, were found dumped behind a Shiite mosque in the Turath neighborhood in western Baghdad.

Minority Sunni Arabs have been urging the Shiite-led government to crack down on Shiite militias blamed for rampant violence against Sunnis in Baghdad and elsewhere.

“None of us accept any interference from Iran or from any others.The Iranians have been emphasizing the independence of Iraq,” Mr. Hakim said in an interview with the Associated Press. “They do not want to interfere in Iraqi affairs.”

Mr. Hakim noted the Iranians have made similar claims of American and British meddling in their country — using Iraq as a base. “We see that such problems exist, and we hope that they will be solved by peaceful means,” Mr. Hakim said of the climate of mutual allegations between Washington and Tehran.

In the interview, which took place in a reception room of his heavily guarded residence along the Tigris River in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, Mr. Hakim also called on the government to expand efforts to reconcile Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups — but not so far as to include Islamic extremists or Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Although Mr. Hakim holds no senior government post, he is widely regarded as the most influential Shiite politician in Iraq. A cleric, he heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the senior partner in an alliance of Shiite religious parties.

SCIRI was founded in Iran in 1982 and run by Mr. Hakim’s late brother until he was killed in a truck bombing in August 2003. SCIRI is believed to have close ties to predominantly Shiite Iran, although it has denied such claims.

Mr. Hakim, who opposed Saddam from exile in Iran before returning to Iraq after the American-led invasion, said Americans have never backed up their allegations of Iranian interference in Iraq. Iraqis, he said, would never accept any meddling from their neighbors.

He added, “There are allegations from the Americans and from others from time to time, even from the first month of the collapse of Saddam’s regime.”

“We demanded any documents and evidence, but none was presented to us,” Mr. Hakim said. “On the other side, Iran has similar allegations toward the United States, or the British, saying that they are interfering in their internal affairs using Iraq as a base for that.”

American officials have made various claims of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, mostly in the southern Shiite areas of the country.

On August 22, the deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Brigadier General Michael Barbero, said it was “irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding, and equipping” some Shiite groups in Iraq.

General Barbero added that it was a “policy of the central government in Iran” to destabilize Iraq and increase the violence there.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the New York Times earlier this month that Iran’s prodding led to a surge in mortar and rocket attacks on the fortified Green Zone, the compound that houses the main components of the Iraqi government and the U.S. Embassy. He said splinter groups of Mr. Sadr’s Mahdi Army were behind the attacks.

All the major Shiite political parties in Iraq are believed to receive money from Iran. Mr. Sadr, however, is not believed to be the major recipient, and on some major issues his policies differ from what is assumed to be Iran’s agenda.

On other subjects, Mr. Hakim lauded a national reconciliation plan launched last week by Prime Minister al-Maliki, a Shiite. The plan offers amnesty to members of the Sunni-led insurgency not involved in terrorist activities, calls for disarming primarily Shiite sectarian militias and promises compensation for families of Iraqis killed by American and government forces.

But no major Sunni Arab insurgent groups have publicly agreed to join the plan, and many of the Shiite militias are controlled by legislators themselves.

“It is our duty and the duty of the government to continue contacts and make efforts to attract as many people as possible. Generally, we are very optimistic about the future,” Mr. Hakim said.

Of the more extreme elements in the Sunni insurgency, he said “it is obvious that Takfiris and Saddamists can never conduct any dialogue, and they are not ready for that. They are the real enemies of the Iraqi people.”

Hiccups have occurred in the prime minister’s plan, including fighting Monday between Iraqi government forces and Shiite militiamen in Diwaniyah that left 73 people dead — 23 soldiers and 50 gunmen, according to the government.

“What took place in Diwaniyah, of fighting in this manner, was annoying and painful, because it was unjustified killing of Iraqis who were not Takfiri or Saddamists. We hope that such events will not be repeated and should be tackled and contained,” he said.

Mr. Hakim also said parliament should forge ahead with the establishment of a federal system in Iraq that would include a southern Shiite province.

“We need to legislate the mechanism and the rules inside in the parliament and that is supposed to take place in the coming few weeks.

Establishing such a Shiite federal region will entail an amendment to the constitution and approval in a referendum.

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