WikiLeaks: Saudi Arabia Rated a Bigger Threat to Iraqi Stability than Iran
Iraqi government officials see Saudi Arabia, not Iran, as the biggest threat to the integrity and cohesion of their fledgling democratic state, leaked US state department cables reveal.
The Iraqi concerns, analysed in a dispatch sent from the US embassy in Baghdad by then ambassador Christopher Hill in September 2009, represent a fundamental divergence from the American and British view of Iran as arch-predator in Iraq.
Read related article “WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia rated a bigger threat to Iraqi stability than Iran” in the Guardian here.
Document 1: Struggle for Iraq
Thursday, 24 September 2009, 03:22
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002562
EO 12958 DECL: 08/18/2019
TAGS PGOV, PREL, IZ
SUBJECT: THE GREAT GAME, IN MESOPOTAMIA: IRAQ AND ITS
NEIGHBORS, PART I
Classified By: Ambassador Christopher R. Hill, for reasons 1.4 b and d.
1. (U) This is the first of two cables reviewing Iraq’s relations with key neighboring states, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey, in the wake of the August 19 bombings. Part II reviews Iraq’s relations with Syria, in the wake of the August 19 bombings.
2. (C) Summary: Iraq’s relations with its neighbors represent a critical element in its efforts to maintain security and stability and normalize its position in the Gulf and the broader region. While Iraq made substantial progress in 2008-09 on these fronts, there remained unfinished business, especially in terms of relations with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria. The August 19 bombings — targeting the MFA, and by extension Iraq’s improving relations with its neighbors — represent a serious setback to that progress and have alarmed senior Iraqi officials that Iraqi Sunni Arab neighbors in particular now view those earlier gains as “reversible.” Iraq views relations with Saudi Arabia as among its most challenging, given Riyadh’s money, deeply ingrained anti-Shia attitudes, and suspicions that a Shia-led Iraq will inevitably further Iranian regional influence. Iraqi contacts assess that the Saudi goal (and that of most other Sunni Arab states, to vary degrees) is to enhance Sunni influence, dilute Shia dominance and promote the formation of a weak and fractured Iraqi government. Coincidentally, Iranian efforts are driven by a clear determination to see a sectarian, Shia-dominated government that is weak, disenfranchised from its Arab neighbors, detached from the U.S. security apparatus and strategically dependent on Iran. Neither of these objectives is in the U.S. interest. In the longer term, we will need to flesh out ideas for a post-GCC security architecture that includes Iraq more fully, develops ways to contain Iranian regional influence, and shapes the special position Iraq will likely occupy in the Gulf in ways that further our interests and those of our Gulf partners. End Summary.
SAUDI ARABIA — ANTI-SHIISM AS FOREIGN POLICY?
3. (C) Iraqi officials view relations with Saudi Arabia as among their most problematic, although they are usually careful with U.S. officials to avoid overly harsh criticism, given our close relations with the Saudis. Iraqi officials note that periodic anti-Shia outbursts from Saudi religious figures are often allowed to circulate without sanction or disavowal from the Saudi leadership. This reality reinforces the Iraqi view that the Saudi state religion of Wahabbi Sunni Islam condones religious incitement against Shia. The suspicion is that these anti-Shia attitudes color Saudi views of a Shia-led Iraq. The Saudis have traditionally viewed Iraq as a Sunni-dominated bulwark against the spread of Shiism and Iranian political influence. In the wake of bombings in predominantly Shia areas across the country in June 2009 that killed dozens, PM Maliki pointed publicly to one such statement, made by a Saudi imam in May, and noted, “We have observed that many governments have been suspiciously silent on the fatwa provoking the killing of Shiites.”
4. (C) For now the Saudis are using their money and media power XXXXXXXXXXXX to support Sunni political aspirations, exert influence over Sunni tribal groups, and undercut the Shia-led Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Iraqi National Alliance (INA). NSC advisor QIraq (ISCI) and Iraqi National Alliance (INA). NSC advisor Safa al-Sheikh told us recently that Saudi influence in Iraq was significant, perhaps more significant than Iran’s at the moment, given the financial and media assets at its disposal, and given Iran’s recent internal distractions. He described the Saudi “media message” as having shifted a few years ago from one that was hostile to the GOI and sympathetic to the insurgency, to one that focused now more on an anti-ISCI message. According to PM Advisor Sadiq al-Rikabi, the Saudis are opposed to a strong Shia-led INA. Al-Sheikh also assessed that the Saudis would try to curb ISCI and INA and throw support to Sunni groups to counter Iranian influence, steps that could end up indirectly supporting Maliki, if he continues to pursue a cross-sectarian coalition in the elections. These contacts assess that the Saudi goal (and to varying degrees most other Sunni states) is to enhance Sunni influence, dilute Shia dominance, and promote the formation of a weak and more fractured Iraqi government. (COMMENT: Coincidentally, Iran also sees as in its interest a weak Iraqi government, albeit one with Shia firmly in control.)
5. (C) Some observers see a more malign Saudi influence. A recent Iraqi press article quoted anonymous Iraqi intelligence sources assessing that Saudi Arabia was leading a Gulf effort to destabilize the Maliki government and was
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financing “the current al Qaida offensive in Iraq.” The article also quoted MP Haidar al-Abadi, a Maliki political ally, insisting that Gulf Arab neighbors wanted to destabilize Iraq. A few of our more senior contacts hint at similar malign intentions “by some neighbors,” making clear without being explicit that they are referring to Saudi Arabia.
KUWAIT: RELATIONS HOSTAGE TO CHAPTER VII CONCERNS
6. (C) Although Kuwait re-opened its Embassy and sent an ambassador in 2008, bilateral relations remain hostage to Chapter VII concerns. While the Kuwaitis have indicated some willingness to reduce significantly the amount of compensation Iraq is paying under UNSCR 687, they have insisted in return on GOI re-affirmation in its entirety of UNSCR 833, entailing acceptance of the land borders and maritime boundary between the two countries. The latter in particular is highly problematic for the Iraqi leadership, especially in an election year, according to senior contacts. At present, Iraq has unimpeded navigational access from the Gulf to the port of Um Qasr, but some two-thirds of the deep water channel of the Khor Abdullah now lies — as a result of the 833 demarcation — in Kuwaiti territorial waters. Some observers, such as Da’wa Party MP Sami al-Askari, have expressed concern to us that after U.S. forces withdraw fully, Kuwait will try to control Iraq’s access to the sea, “and that border demarcation will allow it.” In his view, “No Iraqi leader could ever formally recognize the maritime border.” Even PM Maliki believes this. Despite these difficulties, the Iraqi and Kuwaiti sides have made significant progress cooperating in the past six months on Kuwaiti missing persons and property. NSC advisor al-Sheikh believes that the Chapter VII issues with Kuwait will eventually be resolved and that “we do not consider Kuwait a problem country” like some of the other neighbors. Nevertheless, the border issue is an acute friction point and could, in the view of Maliki, become grounds for confrontation between the two.
IRAN’S LOOMING PRESENCE
7. (C) Iranian influence in Iraq remains pervasive, as Tehran manipulates a range of levers to mold Iraq’s political, religious, social, and economic landscape. Overall, however, the GOI views its relations with Iran in a special category, posing risks that are manageable and not viewed as existential threats to the state. Obviously many Sunni contacts — and many of our allies in the region — see the situation in far starker terms and fear that Iraq could fall into Iran’s political orbit and rendered unable to speak or act independently, once U.S. troops draw down. Iranian efforts are driven by a clear determination to see a sectarian, Shia-dominated government that is weak, disenfranchised from its Arab neighbors, detached from the U.S. security apparatus and strategically dependent on Iran.
8. (C) While significantly weaker than the Saudis and others on media, the Iranians fund political parties and key individuals (as other neighboring countries do), according to a range of well-informed Iraqi contacts. Shia contacts like PM advisor Rikabi and NSC advisor al-Sheikh, as well as others such as (Kurdish) FM Zebari, do not dismiss the significant Iranian influence but instead argue that it:
— is best countered by Iraqi Shia political actors, who know how to deal with Iran;
— is not aimed, unlike that of some Sunni Arab neighbors, at fomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government; Qfomenting terrorism that would destabilize the government;
— will naturally create nationalistic Iraqi resistance to it (both Shia and more broadly), if other outsiders do not intervene to stoke Sunni-Shia sectarian tension; and
— has been frozen in place to some extent in the past few months by the political turmoil inside Iran.
9. (C) According to al-Sheikh, Iraq and Iran have “very special, very frank talks” in which Iraq’s Shia-led government is able to push back effectively against Iranian influence on some fronts. Observers generally credit the Iranians with playing a more sophisticated game than the Syrians, as they try to shape the political process to their liking. These contacts acknowledge that Iran is providing some form of covert support to armed groups like the Promise Day Brigades and other small groups, but maintain they have stopped support for the big militias. It should be noted that some contacts demonstrate discomfort when asked about Iranian influence and show an alacrity for moving on to other
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neighbors in the region. TURKEY: BETTER THAN THE REST
10. (C) Relations with Turkey are relatively positive. Turkey intervened diplomatically to attempt to mediate the post-August 19 crisis with the Syrians, and unlike the Iranian effort, seems to have gotten some traction with the parties. The effort has been well-received here, even if concrete progress has been limited. The Iraqis and Turks have established a Strategic Commission that meets periodically at the ministerial level, paving the way for head of state visits marking significant economic cooperation. PM Erdogan is expected in Baghdad in October, following up on the ministerial in mid-September in Ankara. Bilateral trade is currently at $7 billion annually, and the two countries hope it will expand significantly in the coming decade. Moreover, Turkey has worked to improve its relations with the KRG, and they have significantly increased their diplomatic and commercial presence in the Kurdish areas. However, the Turks also have been active on the Iraqi political front, funding groups like the Mosul-based Sunni Al-Hudba movement, in an effort to offset Kurd influence in areas outside Kurdistan.
11. (C) It is the water issue that threatens to complicate an improving Iraq-Turkey relationship. According to DFM Labid Abbawi, Iraq needs a flow of 700 cubic meters of water for its needs but could get back with a minimum of 500. However, Turkey was only allowing a flow of about 230 cubic meters (with an uptick in August and September beyond that level). A recent visit to Turkey by the Iraqi Minister of Water was not very productive, he noted.
THE WAY FORWARD
12. (C) It will help Iraq’s efforts to maintain stability and security, and to continue moving forward in normalization with neighbors, if we and the P-5 can provide the requisite support for the appointment by the UN of a senior official (someone other than SRSG head Melkert, who already has a full plate with UNAMI) to look into the August 19 bombings. We should also weigh in with key neighbors to urge a redoubling of efforts in normalizing relations with Iraq, keeping up the pressure on Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular to return their Ambassadors. We should also caution Iraq’s Arab neighbors against efforts to inflame Shia-Sunni anxieties through their support for Sunni parties and by Shia-critical media attacks. Regarding Kuwait, we will need to work for steady progress on Chapter VII where possible, focusing on Oil-for-Food and WMD resolutions 1546 and 707, initially, with a push after elections to make progress on the Kuwait-related resolutions.
13. (C) In the longer term, we will need to flesh out ideas for a post-GCC security architecture that includes Iraq more fully, develops ways to contain Iranian regional influence, and shapes the special position Iraq will likely occupy in the Gulf in ways that further our interests and those of our Gulf partners. The challenge for us is to convince Iraq neighbors, particularly the Sunni Arab governments, that relations with a new Iraq are not a zero-sum game, where if Iraq wins, they lose. We still have work to do to convince them that a strong, stable, democratic (and inevitably Shia-led) Iraq is the best guarantee that Iraq will be able to shake Iranian manipulation and see its future bound up with that of the West and its moderate Arab neighbors.
Document 2: US steps up pressure on Turkey over Iran
Thursday, 25 February 2010, 11:05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 ANKARA 000302
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE
EO 12958 DECL: 02/21/2020
TAGS PREL, PARM, MNUC, MASS, IR, TU
SUBJECT: U/S BURNS’ FEBRUARY 18 MEETINGS WITH U/S
REF: ANKARA 263
Classified By: AMB James F. Jeffrey, for reasons 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) Summary: During February 18 “Shared Vision and Structured Dialogue” meetings in Ankara, Turkish MFA Undersecretary Sinirlioglu:
— Appealed for “simultaneity” between Armenian Protocols ratification and the Minsk Process; — Registered increasing GoT dissatisfaction with Iraqi PM Malaki; — Expressed hope USF-I CG Odierno’s engagement would elicit substantive cooperation from the KRG against the terrorist PKK; — Urged higher profile USG involvment in the Cyprus reunification talks, and; — Confirmed GoT interest in further dialogue on missile defense.
2. (C) Burns strongly urged Sinirlioglu to support action to convince the Iranian government it is on the wrong course. Sinirliolgu reaffirmed the GoT’s opposition to a nuclear Iran; however, he registered fear about the collateral impact military action might have on Turkey and contended sanctions would unite Iranians behind the regime and harm the opposition. Burns acknowledged Turkey’s exposure to the economic effects of sanctions as a neighbor to Iran, but reminded Sinirlioglu Turkish interests would suffer if Israel were to act militarily to forestall Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons or if Egypt and Saudi Arabia were to seek nuclear arsenals of their own. He said the international community’s patience with Iran had been met with the Iranian refusal, since October, to work with the P5-plus-1, the clandestine enrichment facility near Qom and Tehran’s recent decison to enrich its low-enriched uranium to 20%. The IAEA’s creative proposal to fabricate new fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor had stumbled on a technically unfeasible Iranian counter-offer for a simultaneous exchange in Iran of Iranian fuel for fuel assemblies. Carefully constructed sanctions, Burns argued, targeting the increasingly pervasive economic power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, would convey the international community’s unity and determination. “We’ll keep the door open to engagement,” he stressed. A visibly disheartened Sinirlioglu conceded a unified message is important. He acknowledged the countries of the region perceive Iran as a growing threat: “Alarm bells are ringing even in Damascus.”
3. (C) Sinirlioglu appealed for “simultaneity” between Armenian Protocols ratification and the Minsk Process. He emphasized “a strong reaction” against the protocols among ruling party MPs had to be overcome before the government would hazard a ratification effort. He warned Congressional passage of an Armenian genocide resolution would “complicate” his government’s domestic political calculations regarding ratification. He said if something acceptable to Azerbaijani President Aliyev can found, then “we can move” the protocols forward. Sinirlioglu suggested Azerbaijan and Armenia’s announcement of an agreed framework for Minsk Group progress would provide the GoT with the necessary political cover. Burns inquired about the prospect for progress on a natural gas deal between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Sinirlioglu implied
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Aliyev is holding an agreement hostage to Turkey’s handling of the protocols: “He doesn’t trust us.”
4. (C) Sinirlioglu registered the GoT’s increasing dissatisfaction with PM Malaki and fear that he is tending “to get out of control.” “He is preoccupied with his political survival;” nevertheless, Sinirlioglu continued, the GoT is in frequent contact with him. The MFA hosted Maliki advisors Sadiq al Rikabi and Tariq al Najmi to meetings 10 days prior. Sinirlioglu lamented Iran’s efforts to influence the election. He noted Saudi Arabia is also “throwing around money” among the political parties in Iraq because it is unwilling to accept the inevitability of Shia dominance there. “We want a free, transparent and fair election,” he said, “we need to forestall a deepening of the sectarian divide.”
5. (C) After the March 7 elections, Sinirlioglu said, Turkey would initiate an effort to connect Iraqi gas fields to the Turkish grid via a 300 kilometer pipeline, costing USD 500 million. He asserted the pipeline could begin pumping within two years. He alleged Iranian opposition to the pipeline because most of Iraq’s gas fields are in Kurdish and Sunni areas. Sinirlioglu advocated a second pipeline that would give Iraqi oil an alternative to the Gulf as a route to Europe once the country is able to meet its OPEC quota. He asserted the piplines’ construction would pull the several Iraqi communities together into a common project. The creation of new “common assets,” he said, could be more important for its politically unifying effect than its economic impact.
6. (C) Sinirlioglu registered his appreciation for USF-I Commanding General Odierno’s recent visit. He hoped for the early drafting of an action plan that would elicit more cooperation from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) against the terrorist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leadership harboring in northern Iraq: “We want the KRG to understand that working with us is important.”
7. (C) Burns focused on Turkey’s strained relationship with Israel. Sinirlioglu argued “the problem is not bilateral, but general.” He attributed increasing regional country frustration with Israel to the stalled Peace Process, especially on the Palestinian track. He blamed the lack of progress on Israeli intransigence, which caused regional stake-holders to question Netanyahu’s goals. He contended the “humanitarian situation in Gaza,” which is not a punishment of Hamas, but of the Gazan people, fed Turkish popular anger against Israel. Even so, bilateral cooperation with Israel is continuing. Turkey is acquiring Israeli military equipment, notably Heron UAVs. Direct flights between the two countries are routine. Two-way trade is healthy, he said, tourism has dropped recently, but “will recover.” Sinirlioglu described Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s mid-January visit as “very good.” He noted the MFA is exploring the possibility of arranging a meeting between the two prime ministers on the margins of an international gathering. Returning to a GoT obsession, he recalled the Turkey-brokered Syria-Israel proximity talks, “which were shattered by Cast Lead,” Israel’s December 2008 military operation in Gaza. Burns noted Syria places high value on Turkey’s role as a mediator and repeated Senator Mitchell’s statement that Turkey-brokered proximity talks can make an important contribution to the Peace Process.
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8. (C) Sinirlioglu contended Turkey’s diplomatic efforts are beginning to pull Syria out of Iran’s orbit. He said a shared hatred for Saddam had been the original impetus for their unlikely alliance. “Now, their interests are diverging.” Once again pitching Israel-Syria proximity talks, Sinirlioglu contended Israel’s acceptance of Turkey as a mediator could break Syria free of Tehran’s influence and further isolate Iran.
EU, CYPRUS and GREECE
9. (C) Sinirlioglu said Turkey’s EU accession is being obstructed by the politically motivated objections of several member states, notably France, Austria and Cyprus. He reserved special criticism for President Sarkozy. He accused France of changing the rules mid-game. He contended French opposition to Turkey’s membership is “deepening the cultural divide” between Christian Europe and the Muslim world: “A wider audience is watching this.”
10. (C) He regretted perceived Greek Cypriot complacency regarding the island’s reunification talks: EU “membership makes them invulnerable.” Greek Cypriots, he said, want the world to forget the progress achieved by the Annan Plan in 2004. They pretend relations between the island’s two communities are an internal affair, even though, by treaty, it’s been an international issue for 50 years. Talat’s cross-voting proposal, Sinirlioglu continued, should have been a breakthrough, but the Greek Cypriots failed to react. Downer is frustrated, Sinirlioglu alleged, and so are the Turkish Cypriots. He implied the island’s Turkish community would register its frustration by voting out Talat as TRNC “president” in April. He renewed Turkey’s appeal for higher profile direct USG involvement in the negotiations.
11. (C) Sinirlioglu welcomed Greek PM Papandeou’s belated response to Erdogan’s October 30 letter seeking a frank new discussion of the two neighbors’ several long-running disputes. He conceded Papandreou’s delay is understandable in light of his likely preoccupation with Greece’s acute financial crisis. Based on Papandreou’s response, Sinirlioglu said, Turkey expects to begin new talks with Greece soon.
AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN and INDIA
12. (C) Burns opened the discussion on Afghanistan with praise for Turkey’s military, training and development contributions there. Sinirlioglu said Turkey had chosen to focus on three Afghan challenges: “the marriage of Wahhabism and Pashtun nationalism”; the chronic antagonism between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and; the country’s security forces deficit. He said Turkey plans to address the first by ramping up its education programs in Afghanistan; the second by pursuing its trilateral Ankara Process, which sponsors meetings of senior Afghan and Pakistani ministerial and intelligence counterparts, and; the third by establishing a police training center in Kabul that aims for a throughput of 5160 trainees per year. Keying off the last point, AMB Tacan Ildem, who recently concluded an assignment as Turkey’s NATO PERMREP, declared the EUPOL police training effort in Afghanistan a failure. He said the EU’s criticism of Turkey’s unwillingness to work directly with EUPOL is unjustified. He argued, since Turkey does not have a security agreement with the EU and is excluded from the
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European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), the GoT lacks a legal basis on which to cooperate with EUPOL. “We would like the EU to involve us not as a third country, but, in view of our accumulated rights,” as a candidate for membership. He urged the USG not to coordinate bilateral agreements to support EU operations but, instead, to route all cooperation with the EU on security issues through NATO.
13. (C) Deputy Undersecretary for South Asian Affairs Engin Soysal led the discussion on Pakistan. He described the Ankara Process and the recent Turkey-sponsored Afghanistan Neighbors Summit as Turkish efforts to assert regional responsibility for South Asia’s inter-linked problems. He said Turkey had not invited India to the neighbors summit in deference to Pakistani sensitivities; however, he claimed, Pakistan understands attempting to exclude India from the nascent South Asian regional structures would be a mistake. He reported Indian Prime Minister Singh had requested President Gul’s assistance with Pakistan during the latter’s visit to New Delhi the previous week. Acting on that request, Gul had phoned Pakistani President Zardari, who was skeptical of Indian intentions. Gul is planning to visit Pakistan later this year. Soysal said Iran is proposing a quadrilateal summit, which would include Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that proposal had yet to generate enthusiasm.
14. (C) Soysal, Turkey’s former ambassador to Pakistan, said the Pakistani military, though displeased with Zardari, remains unwilling to intervene; nevertheless, senior officers’ patience may not be infinite. Zardari needs to increase the democratic legitimacy of parliament. Soysal offered. Nawaz Sharif has become a much more constructive player.
15. (C) Soysal urged a NATO training role in Pakistan. Picking up from Soysal, Tacan Ildem suggested NATO invite Pakistani military officers to courses at Oberammergau.
16. (C) Sinirlioglu registered the GoT’s determination to resist perceived EU efforts to exclude Turkey from the Balkans, particularly Bosnia. He identified effecting rapprochement between Bosnia and Serbia as Turkey’s immediate diplomatic goal for the region. Towards that end, Sinirlioglu said, we convinced Haris Siladjdzic, who had been in Ankara the day before, to cease references to Serbian “genocide.” The United States and Turkey have “agreed to disagree” on the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Bosnia; nevertheless, “we value your involvement in the Balkans.”
BILATERAL EUROPEAN RELATIONS, NATO
17. (C) Burns inquired about Turkey’s bilateral relations with Europe. Sinirlioglu briefly recapped Turkey’s unhappiness with Sarkozy. He described his country’s relationship with Austria as infected by the latter’s ethnic prejudice. He complained Belgium and Denmark are reluctant to suppress terrorist PKK-affiliated organizations active in their countries. Tacan Ildem added that, as part of the 2009 POTUS-brokered deal that had overcome Turkish objections to the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO Secretary General, Denmark had promised to clarify its legal requirements prerequiste to acceding to Turkey’s request for the closure of Roj TV, a PKK mouthpiece. This still needed to be done, Ildem said.
18. (C) Picking up from Ildem, Sinirlioglu recalled the
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POTUS-brokered deal had included an understanding that a qualified Turk would be considered for Assistant Secretary General. Instead, he said, a German of uncompelling merit was selected. “We suspect a deal between Rasmussen and Merkel.” Ildem complained high-level positions should be part of NATO reform: “We missed an opportunity with the selection of the Assistant Secretary General.” Sinirlioglu added: “We let Rasmussen have Secretary General, because we trusted you.”
19. (C) Sinirlioglu inquired about Russia’s reaction on missile defense. Burns said the Russians are much more relaxed towards the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA) and we hope to have more conversations on missile defense bilaterally and, eventually, within the NATO-Russia Council. Sinirlioglu recalled PM Erdogan’s request in his recent meeting with SECDEF Gates that the Iranian threat not be highlighted to justify PAA.
20. (U) Participants:
Undersecretary Feridun Sinirliolgu Deputy Undersecretary Engin Soysal Ambassador Reha Keskintepe, Director General for the Americas Ambassador Tacan Ildem, Director General for International Security Affairs Ambassador Aydin Sezgin, Director General for Intelligence and Security Affairs Ebru Barat Gokdenizler, Deputy Director General for the Americas Serhat Aksen, Department Head, Americas
Undersecretary William Burns Ambassador James Jeffrey Deputy Assistant Secretary Tina Kaidanow Bridget Brink, NSC Daniel O’Grady, Political Counselor Tamir Waser, P Staff Jeremiah Howard, Deputy Political Counselor – Notetaker
21. (U) Undersecretary Burns has cleared this cable.
“Visit Ankara’s Classified Web Site at http://www.intelink.s gov.gov/wiki/Portal:Turkey”
Document 3: Iran attempts to manipulate Iraq elections
Friday, 13 November 2009, 12:46
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BAGHDAD 002992
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/FO LIMBERT, NEA/IR AND NEA/I. NSC FOR
TALWAR, MAGSAMEN, PHEE AND VROOMAN
EO 12958 DECL: 11/13/2019
TAGS PGOV, PREL, PTER, TU, IR, IZ
SUBJECT: IRAN’S EFFORTS IN IRAQI ELECTORAL POLITICS
REF: BAGHDAD 2288
Classified By: Political M/C Gary A. Grappo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (S) SUMMARY: Iran is a dominant player in Iraq’s electoral politics, and is using its close ties to Shia, Kurdish, and select Sunni figures to shape the political landscape in favor of a united Shia victory in the January election. A pro-Iran, Shia-dominated, and preferably Islamist government, led by a united Shia alliance remains Iran’s top priority. Toward that end, Iran is seeking to increase pressure on Maliki to join forces with the other prominent Shia coalition (Iraqi National Alliance) led by the Sadrists and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). END SUMMARY
2. (S) Iran is arguably the most influential regional power seeking to shape and influence the outcome of Iraq’s election. This message offers an assessment of Iran’s efforts to shape Iraq’s electoral politics in anticipation of the national election in January.
Iran’s Policy Goals and Tools
3. (S) Iran’s over-arching political objective for Iraq’s January election is the re-election of a Shia-dominated, preferably Islamist, coalition led by Tehran’s closest allies, notably ISCI and the Sadrist Trend under the rubric of the Iraqi National Alliance coalition (INA) (reftel). Iraq, given its proximity to Iran and its shared Shia heritage, represents a vital foreign policy priority for the Iranian government’s (IRIG) efforts to project its ideology and influence in the region. An economically dependent and politically subservient Iraq would foster greater strategic depth for Tehran. Iranian president Ahmadinejad has referred to Iraq in recent press statements as “a Shia base” confronting the broader menace perpetrated by those opposed to Iraq’s identity and stability (i.e., Sunni states, the West).
4. (S) Iran’s approach to its bilateral relationship with Iraq ranges from political micro-management to broad strategic guidance emanating directly from Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran. The IRIG recognizes that influence in Iraq requires operational (and at times ideological) flexibility. As a result, it is not uncommon for the IRIG to finance and support competing Shia, Kurdish, and to some extent, Sunni entities, with the aim of developing the Iraqi body politic’s dependency on Tehran’s largesse. While exact figures are unknown, Tehran’s financial assistance to Iraqi surrogates is estimated at USD 100-200 million annually, with USD 70 million going to ISCI/Badr coffers.
5. (S) Since at least 2003, Brigadier General Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), has been the point main directing the formulation and implementation of the IRIG’s Iraq policy, with authority second only to Supreme Leader Khamenei. Through his IRGC-QF officers and Iraqi proxies in Iraq, notably Iranian Ambassador and IRGC-QF associate Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Soleimani employs the full range of diplomatic, security, intelligence, and economic tools to influence Iraqi allies and detractors in order to shape a more pro-Iran regime in Baghdad and the provinces.
6. (S) Soleimani enjoys long-standing close ties with several prominent GOI officials, including President Talabani, Vice-President Adel Abdal-Mahdi (ISCI), Prime Minister Maliki (Da’wa), former PM Jaafari, and more recently, Speaker Samarra’i (Septel reports Iranian Speaker Qrecently, Speaker Samarra’i (Septel reports Iranian Speaker Larijani’s November 4-7 visit to Iraq at Samarra’i’s invitation.). Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, Speaker Larijani, and former president Rafsanjani consult regularly with visiting GOI officials as part of the IRIG’s broader “strategic” council of advisers seeking to influence the GOI.
7. (S) Iran’s tools of influence include financial support to (and pressure on) a cross-spectrum of Iraqi parties and officials; economic development assistance, notably to religious organizations; lethal aid to select militant Shia proxies; and sanctuary to Iraqi figures fearful of USG targeting or those seeking to revitalize their political/religious credentials, most notably Moqtada al-Sadr. This leverage also extends, to a lesser extent, to select Sunni actors, including such public figures as Iraqi Speaker Samarra’i, whose September visit to Tehran included
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meetings with several senior IRIG officials.
8. (S) Predictably, Iran is actively lobbying and recruiting Iraqis of various political stripes and affiliations, including Sunnis, in the run-up to the election to ensure a united Shia-led coalition government. Given the likelihood of a Shia-led victory in the election, Iran appears more concerned about the strength of a united Shia bloc in the post-election phase of government formation. For Iran, a “rebellious” Maliki pursuing a more nationalist vs. sectarian agenda risks splitting the Shia vote, which in turn weakens the Shia political bloc’s negotiating strength during the government formation period post-election. Iran’s greatest fear for the upcoming election is a fractured Shia coalition that is unable to coalesce and thereby dominate the next government. Iran’s worst-case election scenario (increasingly unrealistic) is a coup d’etat of former regime elements hostile to Tehran.
9. (S) A weak Shia coalition before or after the election would further undermine the INA and their pro-Iranian entities, notably ISCI and the Sadrist Trend. The Kurds, historically closer to ISCI, remain the important swing vote and are unlikely to reveal their true coalition intentions until after the election. As seasoned masters of the Iraqi political chessboard, Kurdish leaders such as Talabani and Barzani will likely exploit their political strength among Shia/Sunni counterparts to protect and expand Kurdish influence in a future government. Iran’s historic ties to the PUK, and to a lesser extent KDP officials, make the Kurds an important element in ensuring a pro-Iranian Shia victory in the election. INA officials are confident that the Kurds will join their coalition, all but guaranteeing an election victory. An unknown factor in national elections is the Kurdish opposition party, Goran List, under the leadership of former PUK Secretary General Nawshirwan Mustafa. Goran is committed to unseating the PUK (and Talabani) in Suleymaniyah province but needs financial backing to ensure its long-term viability in the KRG and national politics. Iran could conceivably alleviate Goran’s financial woes, particularly through its close ties with the Kurdish Jaff tribe, some of whom are Goran members. However, doing so would undermine the IRIG’s valued relationship with Talabani, while also proving exceedingly duplicitous, even by IRIG and KRG standards.
10. (S) It is important to note that Iran’s power in Iraq, although extensive, is not without limitations. The IRIG’s greatest political roadblock remains the domineering authority and religious credibility embodied in Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Despite his Iranian heritage, Sistani is Iraq’s most revered Shia religious (and political) authority. A critic of Iran’s “Velayet-e-Faqih” (rule of the jurisprudent) system of theocratic governance, Sistani’s abstemious (aka Quietest school) approach to Shia politics has kept him well above the political fray while at the same time ensuring him significant impact on those rare occasions when he pronounces on politics. For example, Sistani’s public support for an open list ballot was instrumental in prompting ISCI, Sadrist Trend, Maliki’s State of Law, and other Shia parties to follow suit, despite Tehran’s preference for a closed list. Domestic political realities will continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa Qwill continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa and Sadr Trend, with close historic ties to Iran, to balance between support for a broader Iraqi-Shia agenda, as championed by Sistani, and the alternative, championed by Iran, that would subordinate Iraqi interests to Iran’s broader objectives (septel).
Soft vs. Hard Power
11. (S) Following the GOI’s crackdown on Iranian-supported Sadrist militias in Basrah during the “Charge of the Knights” operation in March 2008, Iran has calibrated its operations in Iraq to encompass more “soft power” (economic, religious, educational) support and investment as part of a broader “hearts and minds” campaign. (NOTE: Iranian lethal aid to militant proxies continues; however, on a less visible scale. END NOTE). With annual bilateral trade estimated at USD 4 billion (up 30 percent since 2008) and comprised mostly of Iranian imports (approximately 48 percent of Iraq’s imports are Iranian goods), the IRIG continues to jockey for economic domination in Iraq through targeted development assistance, focused largely on refurbishment of Shia religious shrines,
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and trade deals and bilateral agreements aimed at fostering greater Iraqi economic dependency on Iran. This measure has been successful, largely because of Iran’s geographic proximity and access to Iraqi markets that are otherwise financially or politically less appealing to other states, notably the United States, Europe, and other industrialized nations. Turkey, on the other hand, remains Iran’s biggest economic competitor, particularly in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Implications for U.S. Policy
12. (S) COMMENT: Concerns about long-term U.S. influence, albeit tempered by the withdrawal deadline, continue to inform IRIG decision-making to ensure its strategic foothold in Iraq. Iran views Iraq as a natural (and more junior) strategic partner. As a result, Iran will continue to flex its muscles to ensure it’s strategic outcomes are met. This should not lead to alarmist tendencies or reactions on our part. The next Iraqi government will continue to cultivate close ties with Iran given long-standing historical realities that precede Iraq’s ties with the United States. On the other hand, Iran’s influence in Iraq should not be overestimated. As the GOI continues to gain its footing, points of divergence between Tehran and Baghdad become increasingly evident on such sensitive bilateral issues as water, hydrocarbons, maritime borders, and political parity. Some prominent Iraqi leaders, including those with close ties to Iran (i.e., Maliki, Ammar al-Hakim) are increasingly sensitive to being labeled Iranian lackeys.
13. (S) COMMENT CONT’D: Our objective in Iraq should be less about countering all-things Iranian, and more about developing viable alternatives and approaches that gradually alter the GOI’s political, economic, and social worldview. Development of viable international alternatives in Iraq is one of the most effective measures of countering Iranian ambitions and, ultimately, integrating Iraq as a constructive member of the international community. Specifically, our ongoing efforts to bolster the GOI through capacity-building and assistance within the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) and to remove Iraq from Chapter VII remain our most valuable tools in this regard. Given the value placed on the SFA by the GOI and the Iraqi public, our ability to recognize, enhance, and exploit the value of the partnership will constitute an essential element of any effort to counter “malign” Iranian influence.
Document 4: Iraqi Shia Muslims resist Iranian influence
Monday, 14 December 2009, 09:57
C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 003195
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/IR, NEA/I, AND NEA/FO LIMBERT, CORBIN.
EO 12958 DECL: 12/06/2019
TAGS PGOV, PECON, PREL, IR, IZ
SUBJECT: IRAN/IRAQ: THE VIEW FROM NAJAF
Classified By: Political M/C Gary A. Grappo for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: Local interlocutors from Najaf’s social, economic, political and military circles discussed with Post’s Senior Iran Watcher (IW) and PRToffs the scope of Iranian influence in the province, the role of the Shia clerical establishment (Marja’iyyah), notably Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and the challenges confronting the province’s farmers who are unable to compete with Iranian-subsidized produce. Interlocutors generally cautioned against a premature U.S. departure and agreed that Iran remains an influential force in Najaf, leveraging its ties with Iraqi political groups to extend its influence. Iran remains wary of Sistani’s social and political clout among Shias, notably in Iran, given the Grand Ayatollah’s rejection of the Iranian regime’s adherence to clerical rule (vilayat-e-faqih). END SUMMARY
2. (C) During a recent visit to Najaf XXXXXXXXXXXX shared their views on the state of political and economic development in the province and Iran’s role.
Provincial Council Chairman
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted that Iraqis throughout the country were growing increasingly frustrated with foreign interference, notably from Iraq’s neighbors. He singled out Saudi Arabia and Iran as the biggest culprits, but noted that a “mental revolution” was underway among Iraqi youth against foreign agendas seeking to undermine the country’s stability, pointing to such trends in Anbar against the Saudis, Najaf against the Iranians, and Mosul against the Turks.
4. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX echoed other interlocutors’ concerns about a premature U.S. departure from Iraq and risks of a political and security vacuum. He noted that Iran had formed the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) political coalition comprised of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Sadrists, among others, in an effort to bolster ISCI’s image as the pan-Shia party of choice in the elections.
5. (C)XXXXXXXXXXXX expressed concerns about rumors circulating in Najaf that the USG was sponsoring a Baathist conference in the U.S. IW dismissed the news as baseless rumors intended to undermine the USG-GOI relationship. (NOTE: A recent press report in an ISCI-owned media also mentioned a proposed Baathist conference scheduled to be held in Washington in February. END NOTE).
Keeping the U.S. Bogged Down
6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX described Iran as a threat to Iraqi stability, commenting that the Iranian government’s (IRIG) goal is to keep the U.S. bogged down in Iraq in order to discourage U.S. military reprisals against the IRIG for its nuclear program. He commented that Iran fears Iraq’s potential influence in the region, and will continue to support local proxies to exert its influence and undermine Iraq. “Iran does not offer its support for free,” XXXXXXXXXXXX noted, there will be a price to pay for each proxy in exchange for Iranian support.
7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX is supportive of Maliki’s decision to forego (at least for now) a political alliance with the INA that is dominated by the pro-Iranian Sadrist Trend and ISCI. Joining the INA will only undermine the integrity of Iraqi security institutions as ISCI/Badr and the Sadrists will try to fill key security positions with their own supporters, many of whom are unprofessional and sectarian, XXXXXXXXXXXX cautioned. The Badr Organization, heavily influenced by Iran, continued to maintain a very effective intelligence arm, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX . Many former Iraqi fighter pilots who flew sorties against Iran during the Iran-Iraq war were now on Iran’s hit list (NOTE: According to XXXXXXXXXXXX , Iran had already assassinated 180 Iraqi pilots. END NOTE).
8. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX also noted that Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) elements often resort to bribes (USD 10-20K) to secure the release of supporters in GOI detention and that the Najaf anti-terrorism unit regularly receives cash offers to release detainees. He asserted that XXXXXXXXXXXX also alleged that the Iraqi police were responsible for placing an IED close to the PRT base in November. “He (police chief) is a bad guy. After all, he is still part of the militia (Badr),” XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted.
Sistani: “What Do the Americans Want?” —-QDI>RpQd%’MkQQto pulse the cleric on his views about matters of political consequence.XXXXXXXXXXXX explained that Sistani’s son, Muhammad Ridha, serves as the main conduit of information between his father whenever a religious/political message needs to be conveyed to Shia imams in the country.
12. (C) Sistani does not allow Iranian students to enroll in the howzeh (religious seminary) in order to prevent IRIG infiltration, XXXXXXXXXXXX asserted. XXXXXXXXXXXX himself is suspicious of Iranian intentions and asserted that the imams were “in the pocket of the Iranians”, despite their proclaimed loyalties to Sistani.
13. (C) Regarding the Sadrists, XXXXXXXXXXXX recalled XXXXXXXXXXXX the late Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr (Moqtada Al-Sadr’s father), commenting that, unlike his radical son, the late cleric was admired and respected by many Iraqis. He Qthe late cleric was admired and respected by many Iraqis. He criticized Moqtada for failing to capitalize and build on his father’s legacy. XXXXXXXXXXXX also praised the efforts of Sadr’s father and sought to distinguish between “good” and “bad” Sadrists; the former being adherents of Sadr’s father. [Name removed] believes the Sadrists are politically weak and continue to splinter as former JAM elements form their own groups. (NOTE: XXXXXXXXXXXX believes XXXXXXXXXXXX is a closet Sadrist despite his public alliance with Maliki’s coalition. XXXXXXXXXXXX commented that the Iranians had told the wayward Moqtada to stay-put in Iran for the time being. END NOTE).
Farmers: Iran and Syria Waging Economic Warfare
14. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX commented that most farmers support PM Maliki for his increasingly non-sectarian political message and success in improving security. However, he complained that Iran and Syria were waging economic warfare on Iraqi farmers by flooding provincial markets with low cost/quality produce that are heavily subsidized by their respective governments.
15. (C) Iraq’s neighbors were pursuing such measures in order to prevent economic development, thereby forestalling the continued success of Iraq’s new democracy, XXXXXXXXXXXX alleged. These problems were further aggravated by water shortages due to the ongoing drought, the high cost of fuels, outdated farming techniques, and power shortages, he noted. XXXXXXXXXXXX confirmed that the Najaf Provincial Council had recently voted to ban the import of foreign tomatoes into Najaf in an effort to bolster local producers. (NOTE: 60 percent of Najaf’s labor force works in agriculture. The sector is the province’s most important revenue generating industry, followed by religious tourism. END NOTE).
16. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX railed against Iran’s pervasive commercial influence in Najaf, noting that many Iranian-owned companies secure favorable contracts in the province by capitalizing on ties with local politicians. [ also criticized Iraqi politicians “for being ignorant and overly-reliant on clerics” for their political welfare.
17. (C) Najaf, as the epicenter of Shia Islam, carries significant importance for Iran and its overall campaign to expand its sphere of influence in Iraq and the region. The city is home to many Iranian pilgrims and traders eager to profit spiritually and financially from the city’s religious and commercial offerings. There is general awareness and acknowledgment among many Iraqis that Iran’s influence, albeit a historic reality, does not always translate into mutual benefit for Najafis. Many also acknowledge that Iran will continue to capitalize on its ties to the city in order to foster greater socio-economic dependencies. The extent of its ability to influence the ways of the Marja’iyyah are more limited, particularly during Sistani’s tenure, given the clerical establishment’s unrivaled theocratic and geographic prominence when compared to its “sister city” Qom.