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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Report: Iran Wields Considerable Influence in Iraq

LONDON -- Iran wields more influence than the United States in Iraq and has established itself as America's chief rival in the Middle East, a British think tank said in a report released Wednesday.

London-based Chatham House attributes Iran's influence to diplomacy, charitable efforts and the removal from power of regional rivals Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"While the U.S. has been playing poker in the region, Iran has been playing chess," said Nadim Shehadi, a fellow in the Middle East program at Chatham House, an independent group that analyzes international issues.

"Iran is playing a longer, more clever game and has been far more successful at winning hearts and minds," Shehadi said.

The report asserts that the Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran's knowledge of the region and its fluency in the languages have given it a strong advantage.

"Western policy toward the Middle East shows a complete lack of imagination. There is a world of opportunities between neglect and military action which has yet to be fully explored," said Ali Ansari, a Middle East analyst with Chatham House.

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