An estimated 600,000 Iraqis fled to Iran during [the Iran-Iraq] war, many expelled on short notice. Storekeeper Razavi says security forces surrounded his family’s home early one morning in 1982. He says Hussein’s men held his family and hundreds of others for a month.
“They forced the old people and children to walk two days to the Iran border,” Razavi said. Iran maintained an open-door policy for Iraqi refugees, allowing them to work and attend school. Leaders of Iraq’s moderate Islamist Dawa Party lived in Iran for years. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), with its armed Badr Brigades, was founded in Iran. The Iranians provided material support to these groups. SCIRI occupies a large, four- story office building in a commercial section of Tehran. At one time, 200 people worked there, but most have now returned to Iraq.
During Iraq’s January elections, Dawa won the highest number of parliamentary seats within the ruling coalition, and its leader, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was elected prime minister. SCIRI got the second- highest number of seats.
SCIRI sides with those parties in Iraq that favor a hard-line interpretation of Islam. “Iraq should be an Islamic state,” said Ghammas. “Islam should be the source for our constitution, and no law should be approved that is against Islam.”
On June 24, Iranians elected hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Iran is establishing an embassy and two consulates in Iraq. Top Foreign Ministry officials concluded a major trip to Iraq in May, and Iran plans to promote religious tourism to Iraq as a way of helping that country’s beleaguered economy.
Some in Iran’s ruling elite have a strong religious kinship with Muqtada al-Sadr, the fiery Iraqi cleric who fought U.S. troops last year in Baghdad and southern cities. They share a fundamentalist view of Shiite Islam.
Hassan Khomeini, grandson of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, speaks favorably of al-Sadr, saying he “cannot be ignored or eliminated” and is “a very popular figure among the people.”
While al-Sadr has strong support among some urban youth and the poor, Iranian officials also know his influence is limited. In the world of Iranian realpolitik, pragmatism trumps religion. For example, Iran has long supported secular Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, who is now president of Iraq.
“Anyone who comes to power in Iraq, it’s no problem,” said Rafsanjani. “These are all our friends.”
The Iranian-backed parties want calm to return to Iraq and the United States to withdraw as quickly as possible. “We want to build our own security system, and we want the occupier to withdraw,” said SCIRI leader Ghammas. “But we want them to be there while we are rebuilding.”
The official Iranian government position calls for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. “The Americans and British, have they really provided any security?” asked Hamid-Reza Asefi, deputy foreign minister. “No, they have not. So they should leave.”
But unofficially, diplomats familiar with Iranian policy say the insurgency remains too strong for the United States to withdraw right away. Iran’s government, like the Bush administration, doesn’t want to see either secular nationalists or Sunni fundamentalists come to power in Iraq. Iranian authorities hope the United States can crush the insurgency, setting the stage for free elections that will bring their allies to power. If Iraq eventually breaks apart into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite countries, then Iranian officials think they would have strong influence in Kurdistan and a Shiite state.