Iran Influence in Azerbaijan May Unsettle BP’s Oil Investments

March 31 (Bloomberg) — Hajiaga Nuri, an elder in an impoverished village north of Azerbaijan’s capital of Baku, is part of the region’s first Islamic push against a pro-Western leader after similar regimes were ousted in the Middle East. Nuri, 59, plans to join a march against the government next month led by a banned Islamic party that Azeri authorities say has Iranian links. The party’s stated goal: to fight against the regime of President Ilham Aliyev, a U.S. ally they accuse of suppressing Muslims. In Tunisia and Egypt, by contrast, demonstrators mostly called for secular democracy. “I want to live only under Islamic law,” Nuri said as women wearing black headscarves and bearded men walked by walls in Nardaran bearing religious inscriptions. The Shiite theocracy of neighboring Iran is “friendly and brotherly,” he added. Azerbaijan’s energy transit routes to Europe bypass Russia, making the former Soviet satellite a crucial partner for the West and oil companies such as the U.K.’s BP Plc. Azeri officials accuse Iran of trying to stir up Islamic protests to weaken Aliyev, 49. That in turn would make the country less safe for U.S. and European investment, said Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Analysis. “Iran isn’t seeking to overthrow Aliyev but to destabilize the situatio… >>>

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