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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 July 2005, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Tehran finds a friend in Baghdad
John Simpson
By John Simpson
BBC world affairs editor, Baghdad

I was awoken at six o'clock this morning by an explosion which rattled the windows of my room.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari observes a three minute silence in memory of victims of a bombing in Musayyib
Iraq's new prime minister has close links with Iran

It was a car bomb outside a hotel near the BBC office. Several people were killed.

For an hour afterwards, men were still firing into the air - sometimes to clear a path for the ambulances taking the injured to hospital.

Soon afterwards there was another explosion, further away. More deaths, more injuries, more shooting. There is nothing unusual about any of this.

Six months after the election to the National Assembly in January, the daily slaughter is part of everyday life.

If you recall, the election was the great achievement which was to put Iraq back into Iraqi hands, and improve the security situation.

When I call it a great achievement, I am not being snide. The election was indeed magnificent.

Shia vote

I was here when it took place, and I shall never forget the tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of an Iraqi friend of mine, as he held up his index finger to show me the purple mark which indicated that he had voted.

[Saddam's ouster] is probably the best thing that has happened to Iran since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979

There were tears in my own eyes, I confess. I have reported on this country and its brave and decent people for a quarter of a century, and watching them exercise the basic right of free men and women was unforgettable.

But my friend was a Shia and, like the Kurds of Iraq, the Shia had every reason to brave the dangers of the day and vote.

For the Kurds, the election would bring a huge degree of self-rule.

For the Shia, something like 60% of Iraq's population, it would bring political dominance in Iraq at long last.

But the most important thing about the election was not the number of Kurds and Shia who voted. It was the number of Sunni Muslims.

The Sunnis, Saddam Hussein's own people, had long ruled Iraq, even though they are a clear minority. The overthrow of Saddam and the January election brought their reign to an end.

Some Sunnis, with praiseworthy courage, did turn out to vote but there were not very many of them. Ever since, the Sunni community has been a disenfranchised, resentful, embittered minority.

Six months ago it was already the heart of the resistance movement to the Coalition. Now, that movement is almost exclusively Sunni.

Iranian gains

So, after six months, who have the winners been? The Kurds, who now have an unprecedented amount of control over their own affairs. The Shia, of course, who form the bulk of the new government.

And there is another winner, too - one which the Americans can scarcely be very happy about.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq's next-door neighbour, has benefited in every way from President George W Bush's decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Shia mosque after car bomb attack
Sunni insurgents are deliberately targeting Shia

It is probably the best thing that has happened to Iran since the Islamic Revolution there in 1979.

Iran has seen its sworn enemy, Saddam, removed from power. And it has seen the arrival in power in Baghdad of pro-Iranian Shia politicians like the prime minister himself, Ibrahim Jaafari.

Mr Jaafari was given asylum for many years in Iran and has much to be grateful to its fundamentalist Shia government for.

He and several of his ministers went to Tehran last week, and reached all sorts of new economic, political and military agreements and understandings with Iran.

European critics of the American-led invasion used to accuse President Bush of wanting to create an American colony in the Middle East. Instead, the January election has turned Iraq into Iran's closest ally.

And, contrary to American expectations, Iran has so far had a calming effect on the situation inside Iraq.

Sunni boycott

It has used all its efforts to encourage the Iraqi Shia religious leader, Ayatollah Sistani, to keep on urging Iraqi Shia not to retaliate for the blatantly sectarian attacks which Sunni insurgents have been carrying out against them.

Shiite faithful hoist a picture of Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini Al-Sistani
Al-Sistani is urging Shia not to react to violence

The strong hope on the American and British side was that the elections six months ago would bring a gradual end to the bombings and murders here by giving people their own government.

For a few weeks the strategy seemed to work. The number of attacks fell, and there was a real, if faint, hope of peace.

It came to nothing, because the Sunni politicians, having mostly boycotted the election, mostly stayed out of the political process. They faced the very real threat of murder if they joined it.

The politicians failed to agree among themselves, and it took so long to form a government that the small window of opportunity was very firmly shut again.

Now the security situation is worse than ever.

The other day I went to see a leading government figure who is always remarkably upbeat about the future.

"What do you really think?" I asked him.

"I think the genie's out of the bottle here," he said, "and we don't know how to get him back inside."

The key issue was the decision of so many Sunnis not to vote six months ago.

They are the genie, and as long as they stay out of the bottle the bombs will continue to explode.

Your comments

These are the early days within the end game for control of an ever diminishing resource
Rik House, Sussex, UK
Sadly I can't see the US, or unfortunately the UK, ever fully retracting from Iraq. They will have a military presence there for a long time. Why? It's because of Iraq's' geographic and strategic significance and also oil. It's all about oil and always has been. To feed its ever increasing thirst for energy, the West needs to have a foothold where two thirds of the world's known oil reserves are, the Middle East. These are the early days within the end game for control of an ever diminishing resource. All the major players are now manoeuvring themselves strategically like pawns on a chess board ready for the main pieces to make a move. Once that happens, as sure it will, then the situation in Iraq will become irrelevant as it'll be very much within our own neighbourhoods! Within the next five years the Great Game will finally be out in the open!
Rik House, Sussex, UK

Simpson's analysis is rather superficial and lacks the historical dimension. Due to the deeply-lived common cultural and religious heritage, it is natural for Iran and Irag to have close relations in spite of the vested opposite wish of those who occupy this country at present; the Iraq-Iran war was a part of this game.
M. Asghar, Grenoble, France

The sooner Bush and Blair realise their mistake in invading Iraq the sooner peace will return to Iraq. Their assumptions for going to war were false. It is still not too late to bring our boys and girls back home who are facing tremendous hardships there. We cannot sacrifice them for the sake of the current administration who refuse to see the reality and admit their mistakes.
Al Khan, Metuchen, NJ

Mr Simpson has provided a succinct view of the Iraq security situation
Sanjay Mathur, Wellington, New Zealand
As always Mr Simpson has provided a succinct view of the Iraq security situation. It is astounding to me that a country like USA with its immense Pentagon budget, war gaming and planning resources did not foresee the resolution of the Shia - Sunni equation resolution as a pre-requisite to establishment of democracy in a secure society. Worse still it embarked on a process of alienating the very neighbours of Iraq that it would have to rely on for managing the security situation.
Sanjay Mathur, Wellington, New Zealand

Thank you John Simpson for pointing out what has always been the mostly likely outcome of this needless war. Perhaps, it's time for Bush/Blair to set aside their egos and withdraw the troops, leaving the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds to make their own peace and governance. Also, the coalition will also have to stand by with a hefty cheque book to make good the war reparations. The British and Americans have meddled enough this century and it's likely they will have only ended up creating a greater Iran.
Mark, London

John Simpson overlooked that one cause of the low turnout by Sunni voters was the fact that US forces had virtually destroyed the city of Fallujah a few months back. Not the traditional form of canvassing is it? Relevant too, since the Fallujah attack, by further aggrieving the Sunni, appears to have increased the armed opposition to the U.S. presence.
Ron F, London, UK

Very interesting article by Mr. Simpson. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and thank him for his just approach to writing. The only point that I would tend to disagree with is the reference of the Iranian Islamic Revolution as anything remotely resembling a success. I think it was a devastating blow to a quickly rising nation and one of the most dismal alternatives to the corrupt regime of the Shah. Furthermore it brought with it terrible violations of human rights to minorities such as the Baha'is that continue to this day and have been recognized and condemned by the UN.
Todd Khozein, Santa Fe, USA

Amazing what an utter mess has the invasion created without offering any working substitute for central authority
Stepan, Czech Republic
Amazing what an utter mess has the invasion created without offering any working substitute for central authority. One only has to wonder how long this has to go on until the world realizes that everyone is now worse off than he was before, except for a few people who grew rich on the first few army contracts.
Stepan, Czech Republic

A fair report by Mr Simpson. Thank you. To me and to many Iraqis living in exile we can only conceive the fact that this is an American scenario happening in Iraq. If the USA was willing to put an end to this insurgency it would have done so the same way it had found Saddam under the ground! However this all plays in their favour. If Iraq was peaceful enough and secure then there would have been no excuse to have a military existence within Iraqi land!.
Jaffer, London

Simpson is still plying his dishonest trade of revisionist journalism. Not a mention of Fallujah - or are we meant to forget that the Americans levelled that, one of the most important Sunni centres in Iraq, claiming that it would "cripple" the insurgency. That was one of the over-riding reasons that Sunnis rejected the democratic process, because they lost faith in it after Fallujah was flattened. With good reason too. Simpson should answer the question of why Sunni Iraqis abroad also declined to vote, did they also fear murder? Simpson needs a lesson in (recent) history, rather than trying to rewrite it.
Otis Ogede, Sutton, Surrey

John Simpson's views seem very plausible and in line with the evidence. If Bush and Blair could only bring themselves to admit that further Western occupation is merely adding to the misery. They could then hand over to the UN to bring in Arab and non-western forces to oversee the preparation of a constitution and the next elections. A very difficult task but more possible than the present policies.
Owen, Chelmsford England

Mr Simpson's article supplements a wide body of similar observation on Iraq. While he does not make a call in this article on foreign troops, it is undeniable that their efforts are failing to thwart the insurgency. If there is a possibility that withdrawing foreign troops might mitigate the carnage in Iraq, then this possibility has to be attended seriously on Western first principles - the right to life. Why should this not be prioritised above any other concern?
Berynn S, Sydney, Australia

Mr Simpson's is a very balanced comment, as always. My compliments to him. My reservations to an otherwise excellent analysis are twofold. First, a future political and economic collaboration between Iran and Iraq is not a bad thing. It is something that the occupying powers should encourage for promoting regional peace. There is no point in delaying the inevitable. Second, the Sunni non-participation should not be construed as a failure of the democratic process in Iraq; it is rather an aspect of it that must be sorted out only by democratic means---by asking the non-participants to participate and to tell them that there is no other way to get into power. The democratic process must therefore be strengthened by rewarding those who participate in it, even by risking their lives and punishing those who want to free-ride the system.
Syed Nawab Haider Naqvi, Islamabad, Pakistan

I do not understand why the Americans and the Brits fear a healthy relationship between neighbours (Iraq-Iran). The American style propaganda nowadays is to always create an enemy (a terrorist/rogue nation who is against the West) in the minds of people. After destroying Iraq, they have now alienated Iran by accusing it day-in-day-out of trying to have nuclear power and being against the West. Such propaganda has subtly gained the best of our thinking. Now, it seems we hate to see two neighbours (Iraq-Iran) follow the natural course of friendship. When is the world (at least the intellectual minds) quit thinking that a "good Iraq" is a "do-what-America-dictates Iraq."
Arber Shpati, Elbasan, Albania

The world has a huge stake in a stabilised Iraq
Will McElgin, Chicago, USA
This is a great synopsis of what has transpired in Iraq. The world has a huge stake in a stabilised Iraq. The people of Iraq, and the soldiers of the coalition, are carrying a great burden in the march of freedom.
Will McElgin, Chicago, USA

Some of us said even before the invasion that it would be the end of secular society in Iraq. I'm surprised only at the number of people who didn't see it.
Gwydion M. Williams, Peterborough, UK

Balanced and fair, as usual, from Mr Simpson. The US does not have any strategy other than repeating that the elections will pave the way to democracy and lead to improved security. Neither is becoming a reality. If things stay this bad for another few years it is hard to see how Bush can do anything other than retreat with his tail between his legs.
John Farmer, Henley-on-Thames, UK

This article makes me believe more than ever that Iraq can no longer exist as a unified nation. The country should be split along ethnic lines, even if that means forced resettlement of populations. The Sunnis will have to be given a large enough slice of the land to be economically viable.
Tim, Gillingham, UK

How can anyone be ignorant enough to think that forced resettlement along ethnic lines is ever a solution. In India and Pakistan in 1947 millions of people died as a result of Britain carving up the country along ethnic/religious lines without understanding the consequences.
Tom Salfield , London

I fail to understand why the mess in Iraq has been left solely for the Americans/British to resolve. Why cannot the Arab (Muslim) neighbours of Iraq send in a multi-national force into Iraq, seal their borders to stop the influx of insurgents and ammunition into Iraq. And help provide security to the common Iraqi on the street.
Gautam Gupta, Reading, UK

In Response to Gautam who asked why the mess is being left to the British and US to relove. I think that is obvious. They made the mess.
Kevin Jones, Toronto

Gautam Gupta, what you don't understand is that thought majority of Arabs wanted to see Saddam gone, but that does not mean that they want to raplace him with American dominance in the region. Helping Iraq out amounts to helping Amerioca to establish control in the region. And most Arabs don't want to see that happen. The mistrust they have for America is deep. They want to see them pack and than to secure Iraq.
Ben Sefa Wiredu, Toronto, Canada


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