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Iran officials keep mum on Iraq, suggesting squabbles within the establishment.

Iranian officials appear to have gotten orders from on high not to talk about Iraq and to confine themselves to rhetoric about the Americans being the instigator of all problems in Iraq.

The government has stated repeatedly that it is not providing any aid to the Iraqi government, but says it would be willing to consider aid if Iraq ever requested it. That allows it to stradle the divide within the establishment, part of which wants to rush help to Iraq to stop a Sunni power grab and part of which wants to keep its distance.

All indications are that the establishment is deep[ly divided about what to do about Iraq.

The Foreign Ministry has even denied that Hassan Soleimani, the commander of the Qods Force, has visited Iraq--although the Iraqi government told Washington in mid-June that Soleimani was there.

It isn't known if Iran has provided any weapons or other suppliues to the Iraqi military. Howver, two militias that Tehran long supported but stood down after the US military left Iraq have now been reconstituted and are reporting operating around the Shia shrine city of Samarra.

That city is still held by the government, but is threatened by forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that are positioned just outside Samarra.

It is assumed that Iran is once again arming and perhaps directing those militias.

ISIS fired at least four mortar shells at Samarra Monday, with two strikking the dome of the Shia shrine and two falling in courtyard of the shrine, killing six people who had gathered for the evening mealk during Ramadan.

The shrine in Samarra, built in 944 CE, contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th Imams of Shia Islam.

On Sunday, ISIS declared the restoratiuon of the caliphate, wiyh its leader proclaimed the new caliph. The Sunni caliphate was delcared ended after 13 centuries in 1924 by Kemal Attaturk, when he established the Turkish Republic. The Hashemite Sheikh Hussein claimed the mantle in Medina but he was swiftly ousted from power by the advancing Saudi clan and talk of the caliphate died out.

The goal of a calipohate was resurrected in recent years by extremist group likle Al-Qaeda.

ISIS used to be an Al-Qaeda franchise until it was expelled for being too radical. On Sunday, it change its name to just the Islamic State covering all the lands that ISIS dominates, mostly lightly populated desert territory from near Aleppo in Syria into central Iraq, where it penetrated this month.

Iran's chief concern at the moment in Iraq appears to be the defnse of Samarra, the only shroine city in Iraq under threat. Other imams are buried in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Najaf anmd Karbala, but they are not seen as under threat at this time.

Samarra has been attacked on the ground as well as shelled. Its loss to a Sunni force would be a huge embarrassment for the Islamic Rerpublic and its efforts now appear to be to avboid that embarrassment. Iran does not appear to be investing any political capital to continue Nuri al-Maliki as prime minmister. While there appear tro be briad agreementy among Iraqi Shias that Maliki should go, opinion has not crystalized around any alternative.

Both the United States and Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf have gently signaled that it is time for Maliki's retirement. But neither wants to be seen as interfering in politics. Iran has maintained complete public silence and isn't indicating any opinion about Maliki, probably reflecting differing views within the Tehran establishment.

The Shias in Iraq seemed similarly divided. When the post-election Parliament met for the first time Tuesday, the Shias proposed no name for prime minister. The Sunnis and Kurds through up their hands and left, saying they wouldn't participate until the Shias produced a nominee. That leaves Maliki as head of a caretaker government.

Maliki's State of Law coalition won 28 percent of the seats in the elections held in April. It thus continues as the largest party in Parliament, but it cannot form a government without allies. The United States wants to see a grand coalition of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, not the narrow group comprised almost entirely of Sdhias that Maliki has been laqding for four years.

The leader of the largest Sunni tribe, Ali Hatem Suleimani, told The Telegraph of London he was allied with ISIS. But he clearly was not happy with the group. He said his goal right now was getting rid of Maliki. "We can fight ISIS and Al-Qaeda whenever we ant to. But now we are fighting for our lands and pour tribes," he said. He argued that there was still a change to save and reunmite Iraq, but only without Maliki and with a new constutution that provides moe autonomy for Sunni areas.

The United States has sent 300 advisers to work with the Iraqi Army as it tries to re-organize after a quarter of its units thus dissolved in the face of the ISIS advances that started in mid-June. It has also sent about 300 troops to guard the US embassy and the Baghdad Airport.

Iran is presumed to have some advisers in Iraq, probably numbering in the dozens and [probably all assigned to militias, not to the Iraqi armed forces. A report in The Wall Street Journal that Iran had three battalions of Pasdaran in the country has now been dismissed as totally false.

Prime Minister Mailki has complained loudly about a lack of military support from the United States, which has reportedly nsent small quantities of equipment to Iraq Army units but is reluctant to send any major equipment for fear the Iraqi troops will again abandon them to ISIS forces.

Maliki spoke last week most strongly about the failure of the United States to deliver jets for the Iraqi air force, which is comprised only of 160 helicopters and two propellor driven Cessnas. The US has promised Iraq F-16s and the first was turned over to Iraqi ownership at the beginniong of June. But it is still in Texas.

To build air resources quickly, Maliki has now bought 12 used jet fighters from Russia and Belarus. The first five arrived Satuyrday. Pointedly, Maliki did not ask Tehran for planes.

There were news stories in the Baghdad press last week saying that Iran had returned to Iraq the 148 planes that Saddam Hussein ordered flown to Iran for safekeeping just before the US expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991. But Iraqi officially soon denied that.

Iran appropriated about two dozen of those planes that it was able to operate for its own use. The others have been left parked in the oppen where they are more rust than aircraft after 23 years. Tehran would probably be happy to return them, but Iraq could make no use of them.

The United States has announced it is flying both manned and unmanned planes, both armed and unarmed, over Iraq from a base in Kuwait. It will require the personal approval of President Obama for any of them to strike any targets. That permisison has not yet been given.

The Islamic Republic has not closed any border crossing posts but it has forbidden Iranian pilgrims from going to Iraq by land. Pilgrims are still being flown to the shrine cities in the south. Iran has barrd pilgrims from Samarra because of the security threat.

The ISIS announcement proclaimeding the restoration of the caliphate said its leader, known by his nom de geurre of Aby Bakr al-Baghdadi, would be the caliphate. The announcement also provided his real name for the first time. It is Ibrahim Ibn Awwad Ibn Ibrahim Ali Ibn Muhammad al-Badri al-Hashemi Al-Husayni al-Quraishi. He is to be known as Caliph Ibrahim for short.
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Author:Nelson, Warren L.
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jul 4, 2014
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