BAQUBA - Haider returned from Iran recently, with enough money to pay for
his wedding and a new car. He was trained to join Badr, the armed wing of the
Dawa Party of U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Many more come where he recently came from.
Badr is being trained ostensibly to defend Shia leaders, under increased attacks
from militant groups. Dawa is a Shia-dominated party and inevitably looks to
Shia Iran for support.
The Badr militia has itself been blamed for carrying out several attacks against
Sahwa forces in some areas of Iraq. Many anti-occupation militants are now
members of the primarily Sunni Sahwa forces, also backed by the U.S.
"The militants believe that the Shia officials are from the Badr militia,
who are trained and strongly directed by Iran, with of course the knowledge
of the Americans," said a Sahwa leader, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Badr militia was based in Iran for 20 years during the rule of Saddam
Hussein. It comprises largely Iraqi exiles, refugees, and defectors who fought
alongside Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. The U.S. allowed the militia to return
to Iraq after the invasion of 2003.
The Iranian touch has come in all sorts of ways. Like chocolates.
"The militants [now Sahwa members] kept blocking import of goods from
Iran," Hasan Qader, a shopkeeper in Baquba, told IPS. "They shot
the shopkeepers who dealt with them. So it was rare to see Iranian chocolate
or anything else. With the partial government control by the Shia, especially
in the last six months, shopkeepers are now allowed to deal in Iranian goods."
People in Diyala are divided over Iran. Most Shias seem supportive of it,
but many Sunnis say Iran has played as great a role as the U.S. in destroying
Iraq. "If the U.S. launches an assault on Iran, I'll be the first volunteer
to fight on the side of the U.S.," Abdul-Razaq Khadem, a local trader,
In 2003, 90 percent of the population of Diyala province was Sunni. But the
Shia influence has risen now given the Shia domination in the government.
"Iran enjoys influence through the men of the United Iraqi Alliance in
the Baghdad government, as represented by the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council
[SIIC], and the Dawa Party," a local teacher in Baquba, speaking on the
condition of anonymity, told IPS.
"The governor made a deal to import cooking oil from Iran at a very high
price that has never been seen before," an employee at the governor's
office told IPS, on the condition of anonymity. Earlier, the Ministry of Trade
imported cooking oil from Turkey because it was of good quality and at a reasonable
Some people also blame Iranian influence for corruption in local government.
"I think the Iranian influence will remain as long as there are such men
as the governor [Raad Rashid Jawad] in the province," Qahtan Jasim, a
local trader, told IPS. "The province was and still is the worst because
of this corrupt administration."
Iran now provides electricity to Iraq, particularly Diyala province, under
a contract with the Iraqi government.
"The Iraqi government gives $5 million per month to the Iranian side
to cover the cost of the electricity to Diyala province," Said Mohammed
al-Nieemy, head of the directorate-general of electricity in Diyala, told IPS.
Despite instances of positive assistance from Iran, like increased electricity
and business deals that have aided portions of Iraq's ailing economy, many
Iraqis blame Iran for meddling in Iraq's politics.
"We don't have a representative government here or in Baghdad because
of the heavy Iranian influence," Omar Abdullah, a trader now unemployed,
told IPS in Baquba. "That influence favors only those who support them
and injures those of us who do not."
Others, like a teacher who spoke with IPS on the condition of anonymity because
of the prevailing atmosphere of fear, said Iranian influence would have been
impossible without the U.S. occupation.
"The Badr militia and all their political and religious leaders entered
Iraq on the backs of the American tanks," said the teacher. "Until
the Americans came, there was no way they [Badr and Iranian-backed politicians
and religious leaders] could set one foot in this country."