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Analysis: Iraqi Defense Minister Continues Accusations Against Iran, Syria

Hazim al-Sha'lan (file photo) There has been no abatement of Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan's accusations of Iranian and Syrian interference in Iraqi affairs. The minister's allegations surfaced several months ago, but his rhetoric has increased in recent days, eliciting a sharp response from Iranian officials. Syrian and Iraqi officials have also expressed concern over al-Sha'lan's remarks.

The minister's latest accusation came in a 17 January interview with Al-Arabiyah television in which he said he has evidence that Iran is providing financial support to some electoral blocs competing in the 30 January elections. He showed the news channel a notebook that he said contained the names and wages allocated to some Islamic militias that receive support from outside Iraq, specifically from Iran. The notebook appeared empty of any writing. His contention, moreover, is confusing in that it is unclear what he means by "militias."

The Independent Election Commission has banned any armed groups from participating in the elections, and al-Sha'lan did not specifically identify any of the "militias" against which he claimed to have evidence. In a same-day report, quoted the minister accusing Iran of having spent $1 billion on activities that aim to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

On 8 January, al-Sha'lan gave reporters in Baghdad access to a videotaped interrogation with the leader of the militant group Jaysh Muhammad (Muhammad's Army) in which the leader detailed his group's relations with the Hussein regime, and its financial backing from leaders in both Iran and Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005). Based on this evidence, al-Sha'lan told the media: "We have the means like those that are being used against us. I mean that we have the means to move the battle from the streets of Baghdad to those of Tehran and Damascus."

The comment prompted counteraccusations from Iran, which claimed it had arrested an Iraqi spy employed by the Defense Ministry who was assigned to gather intelligence about border areas. "During his stay in Iran, the spy made extensive efforts to make up documents complying with accusations of Iraq's defense minister leveled against Iran," Fars News Agency reported on 8 January. An unnamed source told the news agency that the Defense Ministry lodged accusations against the Iranian government in an effort to cover up the disclosure of the spy's arrest. Syrian officials called the statements "irresponsible, inaccurate, and incredible statements that don't comply with the simplest rules of political and diplomatic relations."

Iraqi Reaction

Al-Sha'lan's statements about Iran and Syria have elicited varying reactions from Iraqi politicians. Planning Minister Mahdi al-Hafiz called his remarks "quite disturbing," telling Al-Arabiyah television on 8 January that the Iraqi prime minister and foreign minister should be responsible for expressing the official viewpoints of the Iraqi government. Veteran leader Adnan Pachachi told "Al-Riyad" in an interview published on 17 January, "I think he has evidence proving their involvement in supporting certain quarters in Iraq." In an interview with London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 18 January, Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari said in reference to al-Sha'lan's comments: "We discussed the matter at the recent cabinet meetings and warned that statements about Iraq's relations with neighboring and other countries are the prerogatives of the Foreign Ministry.... We do not deny that there are interferences by some countries but the way of raising and dealing with them should not be through the media and satellite channels. There are diplomatic, political, and security channels though which these issues can be dealt with."

Meanwhile, Iranian media reported last week that al-Sha'lan worked for an Iraqi organization that was involved in spying activities and transferring arms and ammunition to Iraq. Later, on 16 January, Iran's Mehr News Agency issued a report claiming that al-Sha'lan had ties to the Hussein regime's intelligence service from 1986 until he left Iraq in 1990, reported on 17 January. Mehr also accused him of playing a role in the arrest and torture of thousands of opposition members, the website added. labeled the accusations false, saying that al-Sha'lan left Iraq in 1976 and from that period worked with the Iraqi opposition in London.

The report also quoted al-Sha'lan as saying that Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi was behind the accusations, adding that Chalabi wanted to damage his reputation ahead of the election. Al-Sha'lan is a candidate on the "Iraqis" list headed by interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. He also accused the Shi'ite list (United Iraqi Alliance) to which Chalabi is a member of forging documents linking al-Sha'lan to the Hussein regime, saying that the list "represents the ugliest form of sectarianism and embodies [a] violation of law because it receives support from Iran" including financial funding. Chalabi denied the defense minister's remarks about his list, reported on 11 January, saying his remarks intended to "incite the United States against us." Al-Sha'lan again lashed out at Chalabi on 17 January, reminding Al-Arabiyah viewers of the scandal surrounding Chalabi's ties to alleged mismanagement of Petra Bank in Jordan and accusing the politician of "lacking integrity."

Al-Sha'lan also offered London's "Al-Hayat" new details about the woman who purportedly tried to assassinate him in early January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2005), saying the woman was one of 50 women who were trained in Syria to carry out attacks and assassinate government officials, the daily reported on 15 January. The women are all related to men killed or detained by Iraqi and coalition forces, he said. "[They] come from various areas in Iraq and were given orientation courses in Syria under the supervision of Iraqi terrorist elements living there. Iranian clerics were in charge of these courses," he contended. He expressed optimism that Iraq can make headway with Syrian officials on the matter, saying that the "dialogue with Syria is easy and we might reach agreement on many points with it. But the situation with Iran is different."

[For the latest news and analysis on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]

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