Arriving Sunday at the Baghdad airport, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “descended the stairs of his presidential jet smiling and waving.” After being “greeted with hugs and kisses by top Iraqi officials,” Ahmamdinejad proceeded by motorcade to the home of Iraqi president Jalal Talibani, where the two men exchanged kisses on cheeks before “walking together down a red carpet to review an honour guard as a military band played the two national anthems.”
The pomp and ceremony surrounding Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip stood in stark contrast to the highly secretive visits of President Bush, which are never announced in advance, and have never lasted more than a few hours.
Ahmadinejad’s visit also laid bare the divisions which continue to stymie political progress in Iraq. While he was embraced by Shiites and Kurdish leaders, Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi did not meet with Ahmadinejad, and no Sunni politicians were present at the welcome ceremonies. Hundreds of Sunnis demonstrated against the Iranian president in Fallujah. Here’s what Sunni leaders had to say:
– Sunni cleric Abdul Kareem al-Samarai announced during a Friday sermon “I have a message to the Arab leaders, where are you? Where are your ambassadors?” While several Arab states have missions in Iraq, none have sent permanent ambassadors.
– Salman Abdullah Al-Hamad, another Sunni tribal leader, also expressed outrage. “How can we tolerate this? […] Today we live under the regime of the clerics. The Iranian revolution has been exported to Iraq.”
Sunni tribal groups have been credited with helping to reduce violence, but they have expressed deepening dissatisfaction with what they see as the Baghdad government’s unwillingness to work with them. American officials have tried to present the Awakenings phenomenon as a revolt against al Qaeda, but many Sunni militiamen “say they joined partly to get support from the Americans so they can prepare to resist Iranian efforts to dominate Iraq.”