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Iran's bid for power in postwar Iraq

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'Clear evidence' of Iran intervening?

In public, the neighboring countries, who fought an eight-year war in the 1980s at a cost of nearly 400,000 dead, pledge friendship and respect.

"Iran and Iraq have brotherly relations and no factor can divide the two nations," Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said last month. He said Iran and Iraq could help establish a "just order" in the world.

Maliki’s Dawa party has recently tried to distance itself from the choice of Shahroudi as its spiritual guide, saying that members are free to make their own religious choices.

Maliki himself, speaking on the eve of his current trip to Washington, said reasons for Iran to meddle in Iraq were dwindling: "If [Iran's] excuse was that the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil posed a threat to [Iranian] national security, then this danger is over now," he told the Wall Street Journal.

For Iran, however, the "brotherly relations" described by Ahmadinejad might include the elevation of Shahroudi, who was born in Iraq and who on paper appears to have the perfect pedigree. But he also carries lots of Iranian political baggage, and the concept of absolute clerical rule that he subscribes to is not widely accepted in Iraq.

"Ayatollah Khamenei has taken a number of decisions as an urgent preemptive plan to counter the prospective challenges to Iranian influence in Iraq" after the US withdrawal, reported the Pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat late last month, quoting an "Iranian dissident."

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