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Viewing cable 09BAGHDAD3195, IRAN/IRAQ: THE VIEW FROM NAJAF

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09BAGHDAD3195 2009-12-14 09:09 2010-12-05 12:12 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Baghdad
VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHGB #3195/01 3480957
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 140957Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5706
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L BAGHDAD 003195 

SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/IR, NEA/I, AND NEA/FO LIMBERT, CORBIN. 

E.O. 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, local interlocutors, 
including the province's head of military intelligence; the 
chairman of the Provincial Council; a well-connected Shia 
businessman; the president of the farmer's union; the chief 
judge of the province; and a representative of the local 
Chamber of Commerce shared their views on the state of 
political and economic development in the province and Iran's 
role. 

Provincial Council Chairman 
--------------------------- 

3. (C) Sheikh Fayedh al-Shimerri, the Chairman of Najaf's 
Provincial Council, a religious cleric turned politician and 
member of Maliki's State of Law coalition 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) Al-Shimerri 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) Al-Shimerri 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) Major Uday, a provincial military intelligence 
officer and Maliki supporter, 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," Uday 
noted, there will be a price to pay for each proxy in 
exchange for Iranian support. 

7. (C) Uday is supportive of Maliki's decision to forego (at 
Q7. (C) Uday 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, Uday cautioned. The 
Badr Organization, heavily influenced by Iran, continued to 
maintain a very effective intelligence arm, according to 
Uday. 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 Uday, Iran had already assassinated 
180 Iraqi pilots. END NOTE). 

8. (C) Uday 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 Najaf's police chief, Abd Al-Karim (aka Abu 
Ahmad Al-Miyahi), is a "former" member of Badr with dubious 
loyalties. Najaf's chief justice, Kareem Faroon, a 
well-respected judge 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)," Judge Faroon asserted. 

Sistani: "What Do the Americans Want?" 
----QDI>RpQd%'MkQQto pulse the cleric on 
his views about matters of political consequence. Kelanter 
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, Kelanter asserted. Kelanter himself is 
suspicious of Iranian intentions and asserted that the imams 
of the holy Abbas and Husayn shrines in Karbala, Shaykhs 
Karbal'aie and Safi, were "in the pocket of the Iranians", 
despite their proclaimed loyalties to Sistani. 

The Sadrists 
------------ 

13. (C) Regarding the Sadrists, Kelanter recalled fondly his 
time as a student of 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. Al-Shimmeri 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. 
Major Uday believes the Sadrists are politically weak and 
continue to splinter as former JAM elements form their own 
groups. (NOTE: Major Uday believes Al-Shimmari is a closet 
Sadrist despite his public alliance with Maliki's coalition. 
Al-Shimmari 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) Jabar Al-Garawi, the head of Najaf's Farmers' Union 
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, Al-Garawi 
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. 
Al-Garawi 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) Samira Al-Halawi, an outspoken female member of the 
Najaf Chamber of Commerce, having recently returned from a 
USG-sponsored visitors program in the U.S., 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. 
She also criticized Iraqi politicians "for being ignorant 
and overly-reliant on clerics" for their political welfare. 

COMMENT 
------- 

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. 
HILL