Senior Iraqi Shiite Leader Says Ties with Tehran Remain Strong

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Sep 8, 2017
Senior Iraqi Shiite Leader Says Ties with Tehran Remain Strong

Ammar al-Hakim, a senior Iraqi Shiite politician and cleric, has rejected reports that relations between Tehran and Iraqi Shiite leaders have been souring lately. “Anyone who wishes for the deterioration of our relations with the leader of the Islamic revolution of Iran is delusional,” Hakim reportedly told an Iranian Arabic news outlet. “Iran has the status of a strategic depth for us. And it is not possible to pass over Imam [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei’s advice and guidance that helps us rebuild Iraq,” he continued. Hakim further noted that Iran and Saudi Arabia can reconcile their differences through finding a common ground for cooperation and Iraq is ready to play a mediating role. “Given that Iraq is the only geographical place that connects Iran with Saudi Arabia, it can help improve relations between the two countries.”

Comment: The recent visit by Muqtada al-Sadr, a prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric and politician and the leader of Iraq’s al-Sadr movement, to Saudi Arabia stirred a great deal of concern in Iran. Iranian media outlets and analysts cautioned that by inviting Sadr – and potentially other Iraqi Shiite leaders in the future – Riyadh was attempting to cultivate closer ties with Baghdad to undercut Iranian influence in the Arab country. “Is the headline-making Iraqi cleric leaning toward Saudi Arabia?” asked Fararu, an outlet affiliated with conservative politician and mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf.

Hakim, compared to Sadr, has closer ties with Tehran. And rumors in the Iranian and Arab media that Riyadh is trying to court Hakim as well has worried Iranian leaders. However, Hakim provided some relief to Tehran when he rejected reports that he plans to visit Saudi Arabia in the near future. “Saudi Arabia recently sent a message to me through a mediator asking if I would go to meet this country’s leaders if they invite me. I responded by saying that if their gift to me is leaving Bahrain and ending the killing of Yemen’s innocent people, I will certainly accept. Of course, this request was rejected by them. Therefore, I have no intention at present to travel to Saudi Arabia,” he reportedly said in an interview with Iranian journalists in Iraq.

Hakim was the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (I.S.C.I), but he relinquished that position and established a new political party called the National Wisdom Movement. Some reports suggested that he did so despite Tehran’s advice against such a move.