March 13, 2019
The official website of President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has deleted a controversial video describing the implications of Rouhani’s meeting with Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
The video posted on Tuesday March 12 said Rouhani’s meeting with Sistani, scheduled for Wednesday, has three powerful messages for three major audiences.
The video quoted “analysts” as saying that the first message is that the meeting will show to Iraqi leaders that Rouhani has tremendous power and they can always contact him directly rather than reaching out to “military figures or other institutions about tactical agreements.”
Critics say the message undercut IRGC and its Qods Force Commander General Qassem Soleimani who has been a key point of contact with Iraq since 2003.
Soleimani has been a frequent visitor to Iraq since then and has played an influential part in dealing with ISIS and leaving the Kurdish independence referendum futile.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday awarded Soleimani with Iran’s highest military medal, the Order of Zulfiqar, for his role in furthering Iran’s military ambitions in the Middle East.
The second message, said the video, was for Iranian leaders to know that Rouhani has been welcomed by Iraq’s highest ranking and most influential Shiite cleric.
The message was given on the same day when Rouhani’s most important political rival Ebrahim Raeesi was elected the vice-chairman of Assembly of Experts, one day after his appointment as Judiciary chief. The development has practically put an end on Rouhani’s hope to succeed Khamenei as Supreme Leader.
The third message was intended for “the Trump administration and its Arab allies” telling them that “Iran keeps its doors open to other countries including Iraq to secure mutual interests and will not allow third countries to use the Iraqi territory for any action against Iran.”
Following the United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal and re-imposing sanctions on Iran, Tehran has been hopeful to reduce the pressure of sanctions by maintaining trade ties with major export-import partners such as Iraq.
However, Iraq’s previous government under Heidar al-Abadi stressed that Baghdad will respect U.S. sanctions.
On the other hand, U.S. President Donald Trump said in early February that it was essential for Washington to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to monitor Iran closely.
Publishing and deleting the video about Rouhani’s meeting with Sistani from the administration’s website triggered reactions on social media.
Users supporting former ultraconservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the publishing of the video was part of Rouhani’s campaign for succession and the future leadership of Iran.
Others have mocked the idea of attempting to send a message to Iranian leaders while in recent weeks Rouhani’s position in Iran has been weakened following victories for conservatives, including the appointment of Sadeq Amoli Larijani as chairman of Expediency Council and Ebrahim Raeesi as Judiciary chief by Khamenei.
Social media users and Iranian analysts on foreign-based satellite TV channels opined on Tuesday that the final contest over succession in Iran will take place between Larijani and Raeesi, and with Raeesi winning nearly twice as many votes as Larijani in the election of vice-chairman in the Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with choosing the Islamic Republic’s next leader, the assembly has already expressed its opinion in Raeesi’s favor.