Iran rallies to aid Iraq’s embattled leader

Tehran worried about viability of Shiite allies

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One government partner, the heavily Sunni Iraqiya movement, has complained of being sidelined in decision-making. Kurdish parties from northern Iraq also joined the revolt.

Even Sheik al-Sadr - who spent nearly four years in self-exile in Iran to avoid American-led forces - signaled that he, too, could jump ship and leave Mr. al-Maliki’s alliance dangerously close to toppling.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who has close ties to Iran and the U.S., recently held talks with disgruntled political factions.

But he would not push the dispute to the next level by allowing a no-confidence vote in parliament, where Mr. al-Maliki’s opponents would need the majority of the 325 members to bring down the government.

Some senior Iraqi political figures think Iran worked hard behind the scenes to block the no-confidence effort.

“There is some Iranian pressure on [Mr. Talabani] not to send the letter to parliament [requesting the no-confidence vote] and to support al-Maliki,” said a lawmaker of Mr. al-Maliki’s political bloc, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss sensitive political dealings with reporters.

Hamid al-Mutlaq, a Sunni lawmaker from the Iraqiya bloc, was more blunt: “The Iranian interference annoys us a lot.”

Iran is a big player in Iraqi politics,” he said.

U.S.-Iranian agreement

Mr. al-Mutlaq said Mr. al-Maliki’s opponents on Sunday handed Mr. Talabani a letter with the signatures of 176 lawmakers, or 13 more than needed to bring down Mr. al-Maliki, and demanded that the president call the vote.

Iraq’s political battles are further complicated by the international tussle over the country’s highest-ranking Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, who is accused of running death squads that targeted Shiite officials and pilgrims.

Mr. al-Hashemi, who has sought refuge in Turkey, has denied wrongdoing and has said he is the victim of a political vendetta by Mr. al-Maliki and his allies.

Some of Iran’s leverage also is applied by powerful proxies.

A top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Kazim al-Haeri, recently sent a message to Sheik al-Sadr urging him to avoid dividing Iraq’s Shiites over political disputes. Although born in Iran, Ayatollah al-Haeri’s main group of followers is in Iraq. He is also seen as Sheik al-Sadr’s mentor.

On Sunday, Ayatollah al-Haeri went further by publishing a fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding support for secular politicians in Iraq’s government. It was widely interpreted as a clear warning to Sheik al-Sadr not to risk bringing down Mr. al-Maliki’s Iran-leaning administration.

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