"The real danger in Iraq is Iran. It controls Iraq with a firm fist." So said Iraqi parliamentarian Ayad Jamal Aldin to Bloomberg.com last month in London. "It was through (Grand Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani that Iran was able to invade Iraq."
"Could you please elaborate on that?" I asked Aldin this week in Washington, D.C., where the leader of the new anti-corruption Ahrar Party was making the rounds. This point -- that post-Saddam, post-surge Iraq (initial thanks to top cleric and Iranian citizen al-Sistani) is effectively a satellite of Iran -- goes against the victory-narrative of the policymakers and pundits who have urged the Obama administration to repeat mistakes the United States made in Iraq again in Afghanistan.
The answer (through an interpreter) was a chilling geopolitical lesson taught from the perspective of an Iraqi Shiite cleric from Najaf, who, from the beginning, as I reported in 2003, has called for the separation of religion and state in Iraq. An amalgam of apparent contradictions difficult to unravel in one interview -- Aldin is considered pro-Western but would support the anti-Western objectives of the Arab League (including the boycott of pro-Western Israel); says "people need nightclubs" even as he believes alcohol consumption "undoubtedly leads one to Hell;" wears the black turban of those who claim descent from Muhammad and penny loafers -- Aldin is nonetheless an insightful, implacable opponent of Iranian influence in Iraq, which, as he describes it, is in full and malevolent ascendance.
First things first: Aldin is grateful to the United States for removing Saddam Hussein. This was a boon, he says, not just for Iraq but for humanity. But due to the U.S. backing "the Iranian men," the net American effect has been to create "a new Iran -- Iraq -- with its capital in Baghdad."
For example, think back to the big Iraqi oil auction last year -- a bust for U.S. oil companies. Aldin explains their being empty-handed with a question: "Is there any U.S. oil business in Iran? No." He continues: "Iraq is the second Iran. The difference between the two is that the new Iran is supported and defended by the U.S. The old Iran is boycotted and sanctioned by the U.S." But there's "no meaning" to such measures because more than the notorious Iranian terror-bank Bank Melli operates in Iraq. A multitude of Iranian banking concerns, he says, operate freely in Iraq under Iraqi names.