Courting Sunnis as Iran eyes post-Mosul era

VelayatiAli Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, this week travelled to Baghdad to meet various senior Iraqi officials. Velayati’s visit comes at a time when a number of regional countries, including Iran, Turkey and Gulf Arab States, are jockeying to secure maximum influence in shaping the make-up of the military operation in Mosul against ISIS. More importantly, the regional competition about the political future of Sunni-majority Mosul is heating up and will continue to remain a delicate point of contention in months if not years to come.

In this context, Iran has engineered to hold its pet project, the “World Assembly of Islamic Awakening” in Baghdad on 22-23 October. The objective to hold the gathering in Iraq is clearly to mollify anxieties found among Sunnis in Iraq and elsewhere about Tehran’s intentions for Mosul. This is a council that Tehran has been promoting as a vehicle for pan-Islamic unity but its record of achievement so far has been meager.

Nonetheless, since the outbreak of the Arab popular rebellions from early 2011, Tehran has pushed the council to promote Iran’s anti-Western narrative cloaked in a message of pan-Islamic unity. Velayati, who is the Secretary General of the assembly, announced that some 22 Islamic scholars will debate how to reduce sectarian tensions. But such events are very unlikely to dampen the great fear found among Sunni communities in Iraq and elsewhere about Tehran’s regional ambitions.