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Iran Sparked Islamic Divide, Iran Only Can Defuse It

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Tehran for the first time and at the highest level has this week went public on the so far taboo Sunni-Shiite divide, accused the American Great Satan of exploiting and fuelling the historic Islamic sectarian tragedy, which is true, but offered no way out of the divide except a verbal call for unity, which has to be tested against the Iranian policies on the ground in Iraq, where the Iranian call can make or break.

Iran's highest authority, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, has criticized the United States for carrying out the policy of "divide and rule" in the Middle East, the official IRNA news agency reported, quoting him as saying: "The British ... have taught the Americans how to sow the seeds of discord among Shiites and Sunnis. Making Sunnis and Shi'ites suspicious of one another ... is the policy of the Americans in Iraq ... they promote terrorism in Iraq in the name of Shiite and Sunni. Unity is the greatest need of the region's peoples."

Without any reference to the similarly significant Iranian "presence", Khamenei added: "The bare truth there (in Iraq) is the presence of occupiers that keep interfering in affairs of the government, the parliament, the president, the prime minister, the financial policy making, and in security affairs."

The sophisticated scholarship and leadership of Khamenei could not be credited in good faith with inexperience or innocence to justify his missing the real "bare truth" in Iraq.

He portrayed the conflict in Iraq as only "interference" by the "occupiers" in the affairs of what he presented as the "national" government, ignoring on purpose the "bare truth" that it is the government which the occupiers installed and legitimatized without any sovereignty even inside its captivity in Baghdad's Green Zone.

Khamenei's confusing portrayal of the state of affairs in Iraq could only be attributed to a premeditated policy to smokescreen Iran's exploits from the U.S. invasion.

Tehran also for the first time went public this week on the "superior situation" Iran has gained under the U.S. occupation of Iraq, a fact which makes it impossible to absolve it from being responsible also for the state of affairs of its unfortunate western Muslim Arab neighbor.

"Iran is now enjoying a superior situation in Iraq ... Today, many of the European, American and regional analysts and heads of states admit that the Islamic Republic of Iran is having a powerful position in Iraq," said special assistant to Iranian Foreign Minister for Strategic Planning, Mostafa Moslehzadeh. (1)

Precisely this "superior situation" vindicates Saddam Hussein's arguments for his "pre-emptive" war on Iran in 1980. In a bad faith reading the "superiority" Iran enjoys in Iraq now is tantamount to sharing the Iraqi pie with the Great Satan; in a good faith interpretation it reflects a conflict with the Great Satan over the Iraqi pie, or most likely it is maneuvering either to make Iraq a battle ground in case of a U.S. attack on its territory or to use its position there as a bargaining chip to negotiate with Washington, a possibility that almost came true earlier this year.

The Machiavellian policies Tehran pursued to gain this situation starkly contradict with whatever interpretation a Muslim might give to Islamic solidarity, and could hardly be defended as not being a continuation of its 1980-88 war with Iraq, this time using grudgingly but skillfully the American invading army instead of its own.

None could argue that Iranians would be happy with the occupation of Iraq by the Americans and the presence of a huge American force at their doorsteps, but none also could deny the fact that were it not for the US occupation Tehran could not have gained its current prominence in Baghdad.

The flare up of the sectarian conflict in Iraq, which has so far claimed the worst bloodletting, sectarian cleansing and unleashing of an historic genie of a long-dormant Sunni-Shiite divide is precisely the fear that Saddam tried to fend off, backed by the overwhelming majority of Arab regimes and people, and generously financed by his immediate Arab neighbors who feared the regional repercussions and were ready to deplete their budgets and fight until the last Iraqi to confine the Islamic revolution within Iran's borders.

Those Arab fears are also vindicated as manifested recently by the Saudi criticism of Iran's superior role in the Iraqi plight, Jordan's repeated warnings against a threatening sectarian crescent, and Egypt's alerts against the sectarian loyalty to Iran which compromises national loyalties.

None could argue the historical fact that the Islamic revolution in Iran had sparked a sectarian divide that only Iran can defuse, restrain and contain.

This brief dwelling on the immediate history is not intended to open hopefully healed wounds in the Arab - Iranian relations, but to draw attention that Tehran has yet to dispel Arab doubts and to appease Arab fears that are being pushed to the verge of scare by Iran's policies in Iraq.

It was an unavoidable turn of history that any Islamic revolution in Iran could not but be a sectarian one. Iranian Muslims could not and cannot change their religious demography or sectarian affiliation. But for sure they can control these dictates of history as well as their adverse regional fallout in a way that preserves a regional geopolitical unity vis-├-vis a crushing foreign intruder.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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