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IRAN: Tehran warily eyeing Iraq-U.S. deal

November 18, 2008 |  8:31 am

Barzani_3 Within official quarters in Washington, Baghdad and Tehran these days, lots of eyeballs are zeroing in on the process of hammering out a Status of Forces of Agreement that would legitimize the presence of United States troops in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires Dec. 31.

Shiite Iran has enormous influence over Iraq, with deep ties to all the major Shiite and Kurdish political parties and even to the main Sunni groups. It has delivered mixed signals about how it views current deal hammered out with U.S. officials by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and approved by his Cabinet.

Iranian officials have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the proposed deal. Hassan Qashqavi, the spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said on Sunday that Tehran was waiting for Iraqi lawmakers, who must still vote on the deal, to weigh in:

"The Iraqi nation is in its most historic and decisive moment. We should wait and see when the security draft reaches on the floor of the parliament."

He chided a reporter who pressed him on the matter:

"Do not be in a hurry. Let 's see what will be the reaction of the parliament."

Iranian newspapers, which pretty much all represent different factions within the country's ruling elite, have shown similar wishy-washiness.

The hard-line English-language Iran Daily highlighted the opposition to the pact by followers of cleric Moqtada Sadr, while Kayhan, often a mouthpiece for the most conservative elements in the Tehran government, labeled the deal a "capitulation" that would "deprive the government of Iraq from inspecting U.S. shipments in and out" of the country.

"The treaty has a destructive impact on Iraqi sovereignty and independence, and could have a negative impact on Iraq’s future relations with its neighbors," warned the hard-line newspaper Hezbollah in its Nov. 17 editions.

On the other hand, Etemaad, the reformist daily with a liberal bent, praised the deal as a "countdown to the end of the invasion of Iraq," and noted that only one member of the Iraqi Cabinet voted against the agreement, and she was a Sunni, to boot.

But these are all the voices of pressure groups that don't necessarily represent the opinions of the most powerful leaders within Iran's government, who know that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama wants to leave Iraq as soon as possible.

Check out CNN correspondent and longtime Baghdad reporter Michael Ware's take on Iran's position regarding the Status of Forces Agreement in the remarkable interview below.

Iran's leaders also know that Iraq's current leaders would likely never act against the strategic interests of Tehran, which cultivated, armed, trained and sheltered them over the decades.

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left, welcomes Massoud Barzani, leader of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, in Tehran last month. Credit: Ruhollah Vahdati / Associated Press

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

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