FoxNews reports today that voting for the Iraqi constitutional referendum has begun.
Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also weighed in, ordering Shiites to vote "yes" in the referendum, one of his aides, Faisal Thbub, said. It was the most direct show of support for the charter by al-Sistani, whose call brought out huge numbers of voters to back Shiite parties in January elections.
Though the constitutional compromise is being hailed, VOA reports: Some Iraqis Fear Constitution Will Give Power to Iran (via Free Thoughts).
For months, secular Iraqi politicians like Mithal al-Alousi have been warning that Shi'ite Iran is trying to stoke sectarian tension and is aiming to create a breakaway Islamic state in the mostly-Shi'ite southern Iraq.
"I am very sure we have Iranian influence in Basra. We have Iranian influence in Amarah. We have the Iranian intelligence agency. They have control in Basra," he said.
U.S. and British military intelligence officials say they believe Iran is running intelligence-gathering operations in southern Iraq and providing arms and money to several active Islamic groups operating in the region.
The groups are accused of carrying out attacks on coalition forces, imposing Islamic laws by force, and assassinating former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.
The largest of these Islamic groups is the Badr Organization, a Shi'ite militia force of about 20,000 men, trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The Badr group also acts as the armed wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which operated out of Iran for decades during Saddam's rule and is now the largest and the most powerful political party in Iraq.
The head of the SCIRI party, religious cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has been the leading proponent of a provision in Iraq's draft constitution, which calls for the creation of a Shi'ite mini-state in the oil-rich south.
The federalist arrangement is also supported by members of the Islamic Dawa Party, led by interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. Like SCIRI, the Dawa Party has strong ties to Iran. [Emphasis added]
Other expressions of concern over Iran's influence in Iraq:
From Space War: Iran's Influence Growing In Iraq by Martin Sieff, UPI Senior News Analyst:
Prime Minister al-Jaafari and the United Iraqi Alliance he leads represents the Shiite majority and dominates the government. Al-Jaafari's own al-Dawaa party has very strong ties to Iran. For that matter, so does Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi who runs energy policy. U.S. intelligence concluded last year that he may have given crucial U.S. intelligence secrets to Tehran. ...
Jaafari's United Iraq Alliance looks to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani as its political as well as religious mentor. Sistani has been quiet, politic, cautious and shrewd since Saddam was toppled. But two facts about him stand out. He remains a citizen of the Islamic Republic of Iran and in the two and a half years since U.S. forces liberated Baghdad, he has never once officially met any U.S. representatives.
Jaafari's appointment as prime minister was welcomed in Washington as a giant stride toward the goal of establishing a peaceful, stable, constitutional state in Iraq friendly to the United States. But his emergence as the first Shiite national leader of Iraq in its history may also be seen part of a very different process -- the rise of a new, militant, politicized and revolutionary Shiism articulated and shaped by the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran.
From the New Hampshire Union Leader: Iran hopes constitution bolsters Shiites by Ali Akbar Dareini, Associated Press Writer:
There is little question that Iran hopes the referendum on the Iraqi constitution will help consolidate the power of Shiites in Iraq after decades of Sunni Arab domination.
Others see more sinister goals.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of secretly backing the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq to reduce the impact of America's victory there as it tries to strengthen democracy in the region. Tehran has repeatedly said it doesn't see Iraq as a battleground between Iran and the United States.
Posted by Forkum at October 13, 2005 05:25 PM