Growing Influence of Iran in Iraqi Affairs Threatens to Spawn a New and Dangerous Power

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BYLINE: Ayad Jamal Aldin

While we celebrate the safe return of the British computer expert Peter Moore, released two-and-a-half years after being taken hostage in Baghdad, let us not delude ourselves that the negotiations that brought about his release bode well for peace in the Middle East.

Despite official denials, what many suspected from the start is becoming clear to all: Moore was taken not by Iraqi criminals looking for a ransom, but by politically motivated forces with a bigger agenda. Those forces are Iranian: their agenda is to make Iraq a state that is Iran in all but name.

We must ask who benefits from this outcome. As Moore is restored to his family, those in Iraq who support Iran and the Islamic fundamentalism that it exports are preparing a reunion of their own. The price for Moore's release is the freeing of Qais al-Khazali, the 26-year-old cleric who is prominent in the Righteous League, a militant group that is backed by Iran.

Al-Khazali was in American custody. He has been handed over to Iraq and is expected to be released shortly. Soon, a key proponent of Iranian fundamentalism will be free to muster further support on the streets of Iraq. This is the unhappy deal that has been done.

The British Foreign Office says there is "no evidence" of direct involvement by the Iranian government.

I disagree, and so do others.

Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, told a press conference in Baghdad: "I am on the record as having said that our intelligence assessment is that he certainly spent part of the time, at the very least, in Iran."

Further, an Iraqi government minister told journalists that the operation to kidnap Moore and his bodyguards was beyond the ability of Iraqi militias.

They interviewed a former Iranian Revolutionary Guard who said the kidnap was carried out by the al-Quds brigade of the Revolutionary Guards.

It is no surprise to hear the Foreign Office play this down. Given the diplomatic relations they seek to maintain with Iran, there is no advantage in making the allegation. To accuse a nation of complicity in kidnap would escalate matters, the last thing they would want to do when they have the life of the fifth hostage, Alan McMenemy, to consider. Assuming he is still alive, we must hope keenly for his release.

Nor should we wonder why Sami al-Askari - an Iraqi MP who advises Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and who was involved in obtaining Moore's release - has insisted that his talks with the kidnap group took place inside Iraq.

What the Iraqi government says about its relations with Iran and how government members behave towards Iran are very different things.

Those of us who warn of the increasing influence of Iran on Iraqi politics have been accused of making trouble. …