Monday, May 05, 2008

LA Times Interviews Mohsen Hakim on Iran's Role in Iraq

Los Angeles Times reporter Ramin Mostaghim interviewed Mohsen Hakim, son of leader of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council (SIIC) Abdelaziz Hakim, in Tehran on May 3, 2008. The whole interview is transcribed on the Los Angeles Times blog on Middle East issues, “Babylon and Beyond.” Below are key excerpts from the interview regarding Iran’s role in Iraq.

LAT: Do you believe the recent increasing accusations against Iran by the U.S. are a prelude for a U.S. attack to Iran?

HAKIM: Look, the disputes between Iran and U.S. are not new. In fact, they are 30 years old, unfortunately. We see the signs of these kinds of disputes in Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. Even some other places in the world.

LAT: You mean they are fighting proxy wars in those places?

HAKIM: I do not know. For us, as the citizens of Iraq, we only care about our elected, legal and legitimate government in Iraq. Whatever the government in Iraq says is valid for us. There is no doubt that between Iraq and neighboring countries there were some disputes dating back to the time of Saddam. These disputes are financial debts, territorial disputes, economic disagreements and some of these problems popped up in the aftermath of Saddam's collapse. The disputes between Iraq and other countries should be managed the way crises are managed and engineered so that the security of Iraq is not jeopardized.

LAT: How much influence does Iran have on the Mahdi Army?

HAKIM: In fact, I do not how influential Iran is. Yes, we can feel that Iran, given the deep relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran with other groups in Iraq… I can say Iran has effective influences among all ethnic, religious and political factions, even among Sunni Arabs in Iraq. You can see the influences by tracing the trips of leaders from different factions to Iran. Iran's relations with Iraq is very complicated. It has religious, political, historic and civilizational aspects. The holy sites and all the top sources of emulation are connected to Iran, and it is not limited to one group or army. Bear in mind, from Qaradagh Valley in [the northernmost] Iraqi Kurdistan until estuary or mouth of Faw Peninsula [in southern Iraq], there is an 1,336-kilometer [800-mile] border with Iran.

LAT: So Iran effectively has relations with all factions in Iraq?

HAKIM: Yes with Kurds, Shiites and others."

LAT: Does SIIC worry about the close ties between Iran and the Mahdi Army led by Moqtada Sadr?

HAKIM: Look, if you mean Moqtada Sadr, it is one thing. The Mahdi Army is different. The Mahdi Army is a military faction, but Moqtada Sadr has a political faction and without a doubt the Islamic Republic of Iran has good relations with Moqtada Sadr and his political faction. And we are not worried about that relationship of the political faction of Mr. Sadr with Iran. The government of Iraq should comment on that if there is a worry about that or not. So far the government of Maliki has not said so."

LAT: What is the relationship between Iran and SIIC right now? How much access do you have to authorities and to whom?

HAKIM: We have developed good relationship with all factions. But all official contacts are through our embassy here. I can say our relations with the civil society of Iran and political factions, parties, academic and research centers are strong. Our office here is more in contact with the Iraqi grass roots, refugees and repatriated Iranians who were deported in the late 1960s and early 1970s to Iran."

LAT: Are the Hakims worried about a war between the U.S. and Iran?

HAKIM: In my opinion, all over the region, in fact, there is a worry about tensions between Iran and U.S. You can call it tension, crisis or war, whatever. Everybody in the region is worried. It is not important what you call it. The tension is most dangerous for Iraq. Not war, this very tension, if it continues, not war, is very bad for Iraq. If you remember, Mr. Abdelaziz Hakim was the first person to call for direct talks between Iran and U.S. over Iraqi security issue."

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