Iran's Growing Sway in Iraq Defies Neocons' Logic
by Jim Lobe
who still believes that the U.S. neoconservatives who led the drive
to war in Iraq are diabolically clever geo-strategic masterminds
should now consider Iran's vastly improved position vis-à-vis
its U.S.-occupied neighbor.
Not only did
Washington knock off Tehran's arch-foe, Saddam Hussein, as well
as the anti-Iranian Taliban in Afghanistan, but, with this week's
completion of a new constitution that would guarantee a weak central
government and substantial autonomy to much of the Shi'ite south,
it also appears that Iran's influence in Iraq already on
the rise after last spring's inauguration of a pro-Iranian interim
government is set to grow further.
constitution will strengthen the hand of the provincial forces in
the South, which are pro-Iranian," according to University
of Michigan Iraq expert Juan Cole, who notes that the state structure
authorized by the draft charter would amount more to a confederation
than a federal system.
told IPS, the constitutional ban on any law that contravenes Islamic
law will likely give Shi'ite clerics significant power over the
state, moving Iraq much closer to the Iranian model.
there's no clerical dictator at the head of government as in Iran,
if you had five ayatollahs on the Supreme Court who were striking
down laws because they contravened Islam, that's pretty close to
the Iranian system," he said.
In a recent
colloquium for The Nation magazine, Shibley Telhami, a Middle
East specialist at the Brookings Institution, noted that, "No
one in Washington would have imagined that with all the human and
financial costs of the war, the United States would find itself
supporting a government
[with] close ties to Iran and that
would conclude a military agreement with Tehran for the training
of Iraq forces, even as nearly 140,000 U.S. troops remained on Iraq
was not how it was supposed to turn out for neoconservatives, who
had argued that the gratitude of Iraqis for their "liberation"
from Saddam would result in the installation of a secular, pro-Western
government that would permit its territory to be used for U.S. military
bases as yet another pressure point or possible launching
pad against an increasingly beleaguered and unpopular Islamic
Republic (and Syria, too) next door.
When U.S. troops,
however, were not in fact greeted in Iraq with the "flowers
and sweets" that they predicted, and an unexpected Sunni insurgency
began to seriously challenge the occupation, neoconservatives were
the majority Shi'ites through elections, they argued, the United
States would create a democratic model that would prove irresistible
for the increasingly disillusioned Iranian masses who with
political and possibly paramilitary support from the United States
would rise up and overthrow the theocracy.
a government supported by Iraq's Shi'ite establishment is a dagger
aimed at Tehran's clerical dictatorship," argued the neoconservatives'
top Iran expert, Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute,
in a Wall Street Journal column last December before the
Jan. 30 elections brought to power the Jaafari government.
But while Gerecht
was confidently predicting that a Shia government in Baghdad and
Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najaf would ring the death knell of the
mullahs in Tehran, other analysts saw an altogether different scenario.
long-term geopolitical winner of the 'War on Terror' could be Iran,"
concluded a September 2004 report by the Royal Institute of International
Affairs, Britain's most influential foreign policy think tank.
have so much control over what happens in Iraq," one of the
authors, Gareth Stansfield, told USA Today at the time. "The
United States is only beginning to realize this."
Gerecht's predictions, that influence, if not control, has only
strengthened since the January elections, which were won by the
Shi'ite coalition headed by Ibrahim's Da'wa party and, most especially,
the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
In addition to getting the most votes in the federal election, it
swept nine out of the 11 provinces, including Baghdad province,
where there are substantial Shi'ite populations.
Ayatollah Khomeini created [SCIRI], whose members included Abdul
Aziz al-Hakim, the current SCIRI leader, and al-Jaafari, Iraq's
current prime minister," Cole told The Nation's colloquium.
"Khomeini dreamed of putting them in power in Baghdad. Bush
and [Pentagon chief Donald] Rumsfeld have fulfilled that dream."
to power, these officials broke entirely with the frosty relationship
with Iran carried out by the government of transitional prime minister
Iyad Allawi, and initiated what could only be described as warm,
if not, fraternal relations with the Islamic Republic.
struck between the two countries covering military aid and cooperation,
major infrastructure projects, including the construction of an
oil pipeline that will send Iraqi oil to Iran for refining and an
airport in the holy city of Najaf for Iranian pilgrims, and other
aid programs, including schools, medical clinics, and mosques.
three-day visit by Jaafari to Tehran, where he was warmly received
by Iran's top leaders, including its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was capped by a reverential
pilgrimage to the tomb of Khomeini himself in a gesture that could
not have been interpreted as a good sign, even by Gerecht and other
a love-fest," according to Cole.
And, as noted
by a senior U.S. diplomat in the Wall Street Journal last
week, the recent audience with Sistani granted to Iran's outgoing
foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, "didn't exactly please us,"
particularly because the ayatollah, widely considered the single
most influential leader in Iraq today, has refused to meet with
any U.S. official since the invasion.
Iranian intelligence is reported to have so thoroughly penetrated
Iraq's security forces and militias many of whose members
were trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard that the U.S.
military has restricted its own intelligence-sharing practices with
its Iraqi charges, according to officials here.
acknowledged by Gerecht himself, many of the Iraqi government's
leaders had lived for years, in some cases decades, in Iran and
been supported there by the government. Even Jalal Talabani, the
Kurdish president in the government, was dependent to a great extent
on Iranian support during Saddam's reign.
Cole does not entirely discount Gerecht's thesis that a Shi'ite-led
government in Baghdad operating under the influence of Sistani's
quietest views of Islam's relationship to the state could eventually
act as a counter-model to Tehran and thus undermine support for
the clerical regime, the Iranians, who have shown a growing willingness
to confront the U.S. since January's elections, can thank the neoconservatives
for their good fortune so far.
Lobe [send him mail]
is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2005 Inter Press Service