BAGHDAD — Iran may seem an unlikely place to turn for guidance when it comes to putting together a democratic government, but that is exactly what most of Iraq’s political class did immediately after last month’s parliamentary elections.
The ink was hardly dry on the polling results when three of the four major political alliances rushed delegations off to Tehran. Yet none of them sent anyone to the U.S. Embassy here, let alone to Washington.
Nor has Washington tried to intervene. Even Ayad Allawi, the secular candidate whose Iraqiya coalition won the most seats — and renounced Iranian support in seeking a parliamentary majority — has heard nothing from the Americans.
“Maybe they don’t like my face, I don’t know,” he joked, then added more seriously, “I think they don’t want to be associated with any visit, so they wouldn’t be seen as siding with one against the other.”
The Iranians, however, have shown no such qualms, publicly urging the Shiite religious parties to bury their differences so they can use their superior numbers to choose the next prime minister. Their openness, and Washington’s reticence, is a measure of the changed political dynamic in Iraq. Even though more than 90,000 American troops remain in Iraq, no one seriously doubts they are leaving, taking a slice of America’s political influence with them.
Before the full results were announced here, President Jalal Talabani, from the Kurdistan Alliance, and Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi, from the Shiite-dominated Iraqi National Alliance, flew to Tehran on Saturday, ostensibly to attend celebrations of the Islamic New Year, which had actually begun weeks earlier. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who ran a close second to Allawi, sent a delegation from his State of Law alliance at the same time.
“Iraqiya is the only one who doesn’t flock to Iran,” said Rend al-Rahim, an Iraqiya candidate. “They think Iran is an arbiter and broker in Iraqi politics and that they need Iran to put their house in order.”
Allawi himself said he had no intention of making that pilgrimage. “I don’t think it’s wise to do so,” he said. “I don’t think it’s in the interest of Iraq, nor in the interest of Iran, to go and discuss the formation of a government.”
When Allawi, whose party was propelled by millions of Sunni Arab voters, toured neighboring Arab states during the election campaign, his Shiite opponents cried foul, accusing him of encouraging Arab meddling in Iraq’s electoral affairs. Some noted that he spent more time in Saudi Arabia than he did at campaign appearances in Iraq.