Whisper It: Iran Likes the Iraqi Elections, Too

The proverbial fly-on-the-wall managed to give his report of the interesting discussions that took place last week in Davos, during the annual World Economic Forum gathering of the world’s movers-and-shakers that comes to a close tomorrow. That “fly” was one of the publishers of Germany’s Die Zeit, Dr. Josef Joffe, and the star of the show (actually, a private dinner) was the Iranian foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi (whose name in German is apparently spelled “Charazi”). Joffe found that if he closed his eyes (and of course made allowance for the accent) he could just as well have been listening to George W. Bush or Condi Rice, as he writes in American-Iranian Unison.

The subject was tomorrow’s long-awaited (long-feared?) Iraqi general elections. And Kharazi was delighted about them. Not only that, but he was also glad to give the Bush administration props (strictly within what he thought was the limited scope of a private dinner party, you understand) for its grim determination that they were going to happen on 30 January 2005, and not a day later. Postponing them in any way, according to him, would have been a victory for the Baathists and the terrorists.

Now, Washington and Tehran are mainly known these days for taking opposite positions on almost everything, but in this case, as Joffe outlines, it’s really not so surprising that they’re on the same page. Quite simply, the Shi’ites dominate Iraq’s population (as they do Iran’s) but haven’t had anything close to the corresponding political power in the country for years. These elections can be expected finally to set that straight. And that’s also the reason, Joffe goes on, why Iraq’s neighbors to the West and South have not been so enthusiastic about the elections, as they are Sunni Moslem states.

Except for Syria, which is Alawite. And while that falls under “Moslem” (more or less), it’s damnably hard to figure out whether that puts Syria more in the Shi’ite or the Sunni camp, even from the Wikipedia entry. Joffe implies that Syria also doesn’t look forward to the Iraqi elections, but according to the Washington Post correspondent there, he’s got that precisely wrong (article in English, of course): they are “a key step toward establishing stability there,” says Syria’s information minister.

DULY NOTED BY AMERICAN SPY

My goodness! Here we have both Iran and Syria on board with what the Americans are trying to accomplish! What’s more, Kharazi also discussed at that dinner the idea that after the elections the US troops can withdraw, that it’s mainly their presence that prompts all the violence. Does he finally stray off of common ground with the Bush administration here? Not at all: this is an idea that is steadily gaining ground among US officials, with the exception of military authorities who aren’t disposed to think so broadly and have instead recently discussed maintaining present troop levels for a number of years.

Joffe carefully notes that there was no wine served at the dinner – of course: Kharazi must be a good Muslim – so all this talk came out unprompted by alcohol. (He also says the meal had “no meat” – kein Fleisch – but one hopes he really meant “no pork.”) He also notes that there was at least one American present, namely the ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden (D. – Del.) Clearly the Bush administration need not rely on its subscription to Die Zeit to gain its knowledge of what Kharazi was willing to say at that private evening get-together.

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