The Way We Were

American POWs. Iran, September 2016.

Qods Force leader Qassem Sulaimani expressed anxiety over an escalation of tension and possible war with the US. The general claimed Iran is doing its part to reduce conflict by pressuring allied Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to impose a freeze on attacks on American forces by his Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia, and by stopping the flow of Iranian weapons to Iraq.

Sadr condemned the recent alleged actions of coalition forces both in Sadr City and in Najaf. He noted that during the coming anniversary of the prophet’s death, these acts are an insult.

“I call on my brothers not to be dragged into Western schemes, especially on the anniversary of the martyrdom of the prophet of Allah,” Sadr said, hoping to avoid a repeat of his August 2004 Najaf fight with coalition forces, in which his militia took nearly 2000 casualties, raising the spectre of Iranian intervention in Iraq.

Iranian National Security Advisor Ali Larijani, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani pressed Iraqi officials to work with their “American friends” to arrange another round of bilateral talks, after which both sides could make public statements.

Iraq’s envoy warned the Iranians that they need to do more to de-escalate the conflict, including a halt to rhetoric about “wiping Israel off the map”, and to be aware that armed conflict could be sparked inadvertently by an “accident” on the Iraq-Iran border or in the Gulf.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani said that Iran should be helping the US  to stabilise the security situation in Iraq and that Iraq’s neighbour should be a “partner in securing the shared border”.  He declined to offer his views on US /Iranian bilateral issues, saying that the two nations should solve their problems off of Iraqi soil.

The job of Iran in Iraq’s affairs is to “not interfere in Iraqi internal affairs and stay neutral”, the Ayatollah told Iraqi Interior Minister Baqir Jabr Al-Zubeidi. While Iran might have some influence, the Shiites in Iraq are Arabs and many fought against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.

When asked about the perception that the US is favouring the Sunni and has turned against the Shia, Jabr confirmed that he had heard this theme. Recently he was in Najaf talking to Ayatollah Sistani and stated that the Americans were neutral, against killing, and definitely not anti-Shia.

The Ayatollah twice asked him if Jabr really believed this statement, and Jabr assured him that this is indeed the case. Jabr explained that Iraqi Shiites do not interpret the friction between the US and Iran as ” anti-Shia”.

The White House has a hard time understanding that, though. In a conversation with US Ambassador to Lebanon Vincent M. Battle, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said that Syrian President Assad desires a good relationship with the United States and that Syria is well-positioned to play a positive role in support of US objectives in Iraq.

Assad met with the Lebanese deputies and, according to Berri, was very frank about Syria not wanting to have any problems with the United States. Berri will return to Damascus next weekend for an extraordinary meeting of Arab League parliamentarians, which he said was called to discuss Israel’s 5 October air strike on Syria.

Berri returned repeatedly to a theme he had emphasised prior to the war in Iraq: that the US needs Syria to help stabilise Iraq — more than Syria needs the United States. Syria is the only one of Iraq’s neighbours that can play such a role, Berri argued.

The Lebanese politician responded that Syria shares the fight against “Sunni terrorism,” but that no one can convince any Arab that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s actions against Palestinian civilians are not terrorism. Berri lamented that the problems between the US and the Arab world all start with Israel.

He added that Bashar told the Lebanese parliamentarians that the Arabs are partially at fault for not reaching out effectively to make their case to the US and to the American people.

Adapted from US diplomatic cables courtesy of (2006.) Published under a Creative Commons license. Screenshot courtesy of Fox News/YouTube. All rights reserved.