RR RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHDIR
DE RUEHMK #0557/01 2571420
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 141420Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAMA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8914
INFO RUEHZM/GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 1246
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAMA 000557
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/14/2019
TAGS: PGOV KISL IR SY IZ BA
SUBJECT: BAHRAIN'S SHIA POLITICAL LEADERS VISIT IRAQ
REF: MANAMA 529
Classified By: Ambassador Adam Ereli, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1.(C) Summary: During a 5-day visit, the leaders of Bahrain's Shia opposition discussed national reconciliation and
political participation with Iraq's religious and political leadership. The Bahraini parliamentarians felt particularly
welcome in Iraq and expect bilateral ties to strengthen. End summary.
2.(C) Seven leaders of Wifaq, Bahrain's mainstream Shia opposition party, visited Iraq September 3-8, to convey their
condolences to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) on the death of Abdulaziz Al Hakim and to meet with Iraqi
political and religious leaders. (The Iraqi parliament arranged security and logistics for the delegation, led by
Wifaq's General Secretary Ali Salman, and helped set up meetings that included PM Nouri Al Maliki, VP Tariq Hashimi,
Speaker of the Parliament Iyad Samarrai, Deputy Speaker Khalid Attiya, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and ISCI's new
president Amar Al Hakim.) Jasim Husain, a member of Bahrain's parliament for Wifaq who was part of the delegation and is
well known to post, briefed Ambassador September 10 after returning to Manama.
3.(C) Maliki told the delegation that Da'wa had not joined the National Iraqi Alliance because he believed the coalition
would be too sectarian. His stated priority was to promote national reconciliation. He believed himself to be in the
best position to do that. The Kurds continue are viewed as separatists; the Sunnis want to restore their national
leadership, which leaves Shia politicians as the best qualified to lead Iraq's reconciliation, provided they put
national interests before sectarian ones.
4.(C) Maliki was vociferous on the subject of Syria and repeated his assertions that the GOI has evidence linking Syria
with a number of attacks inside Iraq. Maliki added his view that Baathists by ideology are both ambitious and
aggressive. He told the Bahrainis that he had decided to press the Syrians despite Sistani's concerns that it was risky
to do so. Husain commented that Maliki came across as far more concerned about Syria and Saudi Arabia than Iran.
5.(C) The Iraqi political leaders with whom the Wifaq delegation met all shared their thoughts on the upcoming
parliamentary elections. In separate meetings, Maliki, Hashimi, and Samarrai each lamented that Iraq had no national
leaders; rather, the current crop of parliamentarians focused on their communities' interests at the expense of the
national interest. Husain told us that Samarrai expressed concern that the current parliament had done little to advance
national reconciliation and feared that the new parliament would not be radically different. Samarrai had come to accept
sectarianism as a fact of life in the parliament, and noted that the problem was compounded by the fact that many MPs
were isolated from their constituents because of security concerns.
6.(C) Several of Wifaq's interlocutors compared Iraq's problems to those of Bahrain. Maliki told them that Wifaq could
learn a lot from Baghdad, and that the challenges were similar. Hashimi observed that Iraq's problems mirrored
Bahrain's: control of each country was in sectarian hands. Sistani's Advice on Bahraini Elections
7.(C) Meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani and his son, Mohammed Redha, in Najaf, the delegation received guidance on
continued participation in the political process. (Note: Wifaq participated in Bahrain's 2006 parliamentary elections;
other Shia factions continue to call for a boycott until the present constitution is revised. End note.) According to
Husain, Sistani told the Wifaqis that political participation should be the norm, provided that both religious leaders
and a majority of the community concurred that the atmosphere was "correct." This caveat appeared to be a departure from
Sistani's message to a Wifaq delegation in February, when he reportedly told them that Shia should participate in local
politics without reservations. Ayatollah Ishaq Al Fayad told the delegation that their platform should be nationalist,
not Shia, and with no hidden agenda.
8.(C) Comment: Despite Sistani's more nuanced guidance on political participation, we have seen no signs from Wifaq that
it may withdraw from the process. All indications to this point are that the party will contest the 2010 parliamentary
elections. Hussain opined that Sistani's MANAMA 00000557 002 OF 002 guidance could be interpreted as giving the party
leadership the leeway they need to counter those in the Haq and Wafa' Movements who have called for another boycott in
2010. With the majority of Bahrain's Shia population behind Wifaq, the party could use Sistani's message to bolster its
argument that continued participation in politics is appropriate and approved at the highest levels of the clerical
9.(C) Comment continued: The Wifaq visit the underlines the return of Najaf and Karbala to their traditional roles as
centers of religious and political guidance for Bahraini Shia. (They also visited the holy shrine in Samarra, and
Hussein was visibly moved by the experience.) Although many Bahraini Shia clerics had to study in Qom during the Saddam
Hussein regime, several prominent Shia have told us that they feel more comfortable with their fellow Arab Shia in Iraq.
The Bahraini Shia welcome their renewed access to Najaf and Karbala - there are now three airlines offering Bahrain-Iraq
service (reftel), and we expect links between the two Shia-majority countries will continue to grow. ERELI