Iran and its associated Shiite sects are hijacking Arab causes and exploiting them to serve an "expansionist scheme", a top Sunni Islamist cleric warned in a statement.
Sheikh Hamid al-Ali, based in Kuwait, is a leading Islamist ideologue, whose teachings are often posted on Islamist websites. He has been linked to al-Qaeda activities in the Gulf state, and is described by the US government as a "terrorist facilitator who has provided financial support for al-Qaeda affiliated groups seeking to commit acts of terrorism in Kuwait, Iraq, and elsewhere." Ali is also well known for lashing out against Shiites.
In a statement posted on an al-Qaeda affiliated internet forum on Sunday, Ali cited western reports tracking Iran's nuclear program, and military expansion, before turning his attention to Iran's role in the region.
"Lebanon is a vivid example the Iranian expansionist scheme at the expense of real Arab causes, which are exploited by Shiite sects," Ali said. "Iran has also established strong relations with the Palestinian Islamic resistance, enabling it to use this relationship to organize events (in the Palestinian territories). Iran was very devoted to a Hamas victory in the elections," he added.
"The jihadi movement has to be aware of the reality of the size of Iran's influence, and must not allow Iran to exploit legitimate causes, as seen in Lebanon," he declared.
"In the coming stage we will see more isolation, friction, and escalation... and an inevitable confrontation," Ali predicted, adding that "it is certain that Islam and Muslims will be victorious," describing his vision of Sunni Muslims overcoming Shiites.
Responding to Ali's comments, members of the jihadi forum called for holy war to be declared against Iran. "We ask that God makes the Islamic State of Iraq (Iraqi Sunni jihad group) declare war against Iran for the sake of Islam, and awaken the nation to the danger of Iran," one member wrote in a message in the forum.
Professor Raymond Tanter, co-author of the recently published "What Makes Iran tick," said Sunni jihadis had cause to fear Iran, but told Ynetnews he doubted a full-scale war would erupt between al-Qaeda and Iran.
Iran's imperial ambitions
Tanter is also president of the Washington-based Iran Policy Committee, comprised of former officials from the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and intelligence services. He said Ali was not alone among Sunni clerics in condemning Iran. "Other Saudi sheikhs have even condemned the imperial ambitions of Iran, not only because of the threat from Tehran's nuclear weapons progress, but also because of the Iranian regime's support for Shiite Hizbullah in Lebanon," Tanter said.
"As Iran progresses toward nuclear weapons status, there is an increasing pushback from Sunni spiritual and political leaders about the Iranian threat to create a Shiite crescent and to dominate both Shiites and Sunni Muslims," Tanter explained. "Because the Iranian regime arms, trains, and funds militias killing Sunni civilians in Iraq, leading Wahhabi sheikhs in Saudi Arabia are increasingly critical of Tehran," he added.
Tanter said, however, that "there is little chance of war between Sunni al-Qaeda and the Shiite state of Iran. Both have more in common than they share differences," adding that "there are indications that Tehran provides safe haven to portions of the al-Qaeda leadership. That said, however, Sunni jihadis are correct to view Iran as a threat to them."
Dr. Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told Ynetnews that Sunni-Shiite warfare had already been waging since the 1990s.
10,000 dead in Shiite-Sunni war
"This started well before Iraq. In 1995, al-Qaeda in Afghanistan carried out mass killings against Shiites. In Pakistan, terrorism was used against the sizeable Shiite minority in Pakistan. The Shiites responded by organizing their own terror groups. Over 10,000 people were killed in terror attacks between the two groups, which targeted each other's mosques and centers through suicide bombers, though this has hardly been reported," he said.
Citing an exchange of letters between the late al-Qaeda leader in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden, Karmon said al-Qaeda had gradually come to accept Zarqawi's view that Shiites are infidels and represented a priority target for jihad.
"This issue will dictate the Middle Eastern agenda in the years to come," Karmon said. "In Iraq, al-Qaeda strikes Shiites every day. If the Americans withdraw, it will be presented as a Sunni victory, as Shiites hardly took part in the war against the Americans," he said.
Karmon added, however, that "this does not prevent cooperation between the two," and said that Iran may decide to use al-Qaeda to respond to strikes against its nuclear facilities to avoid tracing the attacks back to Tehran. He also highlighted the growing admiration held by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad for Iran's successful Islamic Resolution and international activities.
'Iran planning to weaken Arab identity'
Meanwhile, in Kuwait, the Jordanian Parliamentary Speaker, Abd Al-Hadi Al-Majali, stated that Iran's intervention in Iraq had "nothing to do with either religion or with the Sunni-Shiite conflict," adding that it was nationalistically motivated and part of an historical conflict between the Arabs and the Persians," a dispatch by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported.
MEMRI added that "this new Jordanian approach is in line with the Saudi position. Although Saudi Arabia considers the Iran-Iraq confrontation to be a sectarian clash between the Sunnis and the Shiites, it has been careful not to refer to it as such publicly, phrasing its harsh criticism of Iran in nationalist, rather than sectarian-religious, terms."
“... (Iran is) harboring plans to significantly weaken the (Arab) identity. What is happening in Iraq (today) has nothing to do with either the Sunnis or the Shiites. Iran's intervention in Iraq is for nationalist reasons, and not in order to support the Shiites, as some claim. Hence I believe that Arab identity in Iraq is under threat," al-Majali said.