Iraq and Iran fuming over Mubarak ‘civil war’ remarks'
CAIRO: Iraq and its powerful neighbour Iran were fuming Sunday over comments by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a major broker in Middle East politics, about Iraqi civil war and Shiites’ allegiance to Tehran.
In an interview first aired Saturday by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel, Mubarak warned that Iraq was in the midst of a civil war that threatened the Middle East.
He also expressed alarm about Shiite Iran’s influence in Arab countries. Ibrahim Jaafari, Iraq’s incumbent premier and a devout Shiite, unequivocally condemned Mubarak’s remarks.
“The comments have upset Iraqi people who come from different religious and ethnic backgrounds and have astonished and discontented the Iraqi government,” he told reporters Sunday.
As Jaafari spoke, he was flanked by President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and Adnan al-Pachachi, a Sunni and the parliament’s acting speaker.
Expressing his anguish at Mubarak’s statements, Talabani said these “accusations against our Shiite brothers are baseless and we have asked our foreign minister to talk to Egypt about this”.
Iran, with its 90 percent Shiite Muslim population, many of whom make frequent pilgrimages to the shrines of revered Shiite imams in Iraq, did not take kindly to Mubarak’s comments. “It is evident that the Islamic republic of Iran is only interested in seeking security and stability in Iraq and the region,” foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran.
“We have a lot of influence in Iraq, and in no way have we used it to interfere in Iraq’s affairs. Our influence is a spiritual one,” he added.
Analysts voiced their surprise at Mubarak’s comments, which they considered to be a diplomatic blunder. “Shiites may be loyal to Iran emotionally but not politically. Comments that Shiites are manipulated by Iran is a huge exaggeration,” said Bahgat Korany, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
“It was completely uncalled for,” said Muhammad Sayed Said, political analyst with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
“He is giving an impression that there is a Sunni-Shiite divide in the Arab world. This way he is condemning half the population.
“Mr Mubarak used to be a man who calculated his words carefully, but I think age makes a difference,” said the Cairo-based analyst.
The Egyptian presidency sought to defuse the tension engendered by Mubarak’s interview and assured he was not pointing an accusatory finger at Tehran. AFP