Neo-Cons See Iran Behind Shiite Uprising
close to the administration of President George W Bush are pushing
for retribution against Iran for, they say, sponsoring this week's
Shiite uprising in Iraq led by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
the growing number of reports that depict the fighting as a spontaneous
and indigenous revolt against the U.S.-led occupation, the influential
neo-cons are calling on Bush to warn Tehran to cease its alleged
backing for al-Sadr and other Shia militias or face retaliation,
ranging from an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities to covert action
designed to overthrow the government.
independent experts say that while Iran has no doubt provided various
forms of assistance to Shia factions in Iraq since the ouster of
former President Saddam Hussein one year ago, its relations with
Sadr have long been rocky, and that it has opposed radical actions
that could destabilize the situation.
elements closest to Iran among the Shiite clerics (in Iraq) have
been the most moderate through all of this," according to Shaul
Bakhash, an Iran expert at George Mason University here.
regional specialists agree that Iran has a strategic interest in
avoiding any train of events that risks plunging Iraq into chaos
or civil war and partition.
centered in Vice President Dick Cheney's office and among the civilian
leadership in the Pentagon have strongly opposed any détente
with Iran, and have frequently blamed it for problems the United
States has encountered in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
outside the administration, such as former Defense Policy Board
chairman Richard Perle and his colleagues at the American Enterprise
Institute (AEI), Michael Ledeen and Reuel Marc Gerecht, called even
before the Iraq war for Washington to support indigenous efforts
to oust the "mullahcracy" in Tehran, which is seen as
an archenemy of both the United States and Israel.
neo-conservatives have seized on Sadr's uprising as a new opportunity
both to raise tensions against Iran and to divert attention from
Washington's bungling of relations with the Shia community in Iraq.
U.S. officials both here and in Iraq have not yet named Iran as
the hidden hand behind Sadr, although a senior reporter at the right-wing
Washington Times, Rowan
Scarborough, quoted unnamed "military sources" Wednesday
as telling him that Sadr "is being aided directly by Iran's
Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah, an Iranian-created terrorist
group based in Lebanon."
"Pentagon officials" gave a similar account to the New
York Times, although Times
reporter James Risen stressed that CIA officials disagreed with
that analysis, adding, "some intelligence officials believe
that the Pentagon has been eager to link Hezbollah to the violence
in Iraq to link the Iranian regime more closely to anti-American
Iran hand was first raised in connection with Sadr's revolt by Michael
Rubin, who just returned as a "governance team advisor"
for the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq to
his previous position as a resident fellow at AEI.
column published in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday,
he complained that Washington and the CPA had failed to provide
liberal and democratic Iraqi leaders with anything like the kind
of support that Iran was supplying to radical Shia leaders and their
said that on a visit to the Shia-dominated south he found that Iranians
were pouring money and arms to key Islamist parties, including the
Da'wa, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),
and Sadr himself, whose rise over the past year, according to Rubin,
is explained by the "ample funding he receives through Iran-based
cleric Ayatollah Kazem al Haeri, a close associate of Iranian Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini."
senior CPA adviser, Larry Diamond, a neo-conservative who specializes
in democratization at the California-based Hoover Institution, told
IPS this week that Sadr's Mahdi Army, and other Shia militias, are
being armed and financed by Iran with the aim of imposing "another
is embarked on a concerned, clever, lavishly-resourced campaign
to defeat any effort for any genuine pluralist democracy in Iraq,"
said Diamond. "The longer we wait to confront the thug, the
more troops he'll have in his army, the more arms he'll have and
financial support virtually all coming from Iran the more
he will intimidate and kill sincere democratic actors in the country,
and the more impossible our task at building democracy will become."
think we should tell the Iranian regime that if they don't cease
and desist, we will play the same game, that we will destabilize
them," he added.
Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page took up
the same theme, arguing that Sadr has talked "openly of creating
an Iranian-style Islamic Republic in Iraq (and) has visited Tehran
since the fall of Saddam. "His Mahdi militia is almost certainly
financed and trained by Iranians," the editorial continued,
adding, "Revolutionary Guards may be instigating some of the
for Tehran, we would hope the Sadr uprising puts to rest the illusion
that the mullahs (in Tehran) can be appeased. As Bernard Lewis teaches,
Middle Eastern leaders interpret American restraint as weakness.
Iran's mullahs fear a Muslim democracy in Iraq because is it a direct
threat to their own rule."
warnings to Tehran from Washington don't impress them, perhaps some
cruise missiles aimed at the Bushehr nuclear site will concentrate
their minds," the Journal suggested.
Wednesday, New York Times columnist William Safire asserted
the existence of an axis involving Sadr, Iran, Hezbollah and Syria.
"We should break the Iranian-Hezbollah-Sadr connection in ways
that our special forces know how to do," he wrote.
this line of reasoning appears particularly curious to Bakhash,
who notes that the Sadr family, including Moqtada himself, is precisely
the kind of Iraqi Shiite who would be deeply suspicious of Tehran.
father was a strong Iraqi nationalist, like Moqtada himself,"
he told IPS. "He often used to question why there were in Iraq
ayatollahs who spoke Arabic with a Persian accent."
other experts, Bakhash believes that Iran has indeed been heavily
involved with the Iraqi Shia community, but sees the leadership
providing far more support to SCIRI and its Badr brigades than to
Sadr, who, from Tehran's point of view, is seen as untrustworthy.
also questions the neo-conservative assumption that Iran wants to
destabilize Iraq now. "Obviously the Iranians are not unhappy
to see the Americans discomfited in Iraq, but I don't think it's
the policy of the Iranian government to destabilize Iraq right along
its own border," he said.
East historian Juan Cole of the University of Michigan also
questions the notion of a link between Iran and Sadr in the current
uprising. While Sadr's views on theocratic government are consistent
with those of Iranian hardliners, according to Cole, his outspoken
Iraqi nationalism poses a major challenge to Khameini's claim to
authority over all Shiite religious communities, including those
to the Journal's assumptions, adds
Cole, Sadr did not receive much encouragement from the Iranian
leaders he met in Tehran. "The message he got was that he should
stop being so divisive and should cooperate more with the other
Kemp, an Iran specialist at the Nixon Center and Middle East adviser
on former president Ronald Reagan's National Security Council staff,
says he has little doubt the Iranians have influence with several
different Shiite groups, and that there might even be "rogue
elements" inside Iraq who back Sadr.
he agrees that Tehran's strongest ties are with SCIRI and the Badr
Brigades, who were trained by the Revolutionary Guard inside Iran
during Hussein's rule. "The situation is far too complex to
make simplistic statements about what Iran is or is not doing,"
Kemp told IPS. "But to suggest that this is an Iranian-inspired
insurrection is a stretch."
neo-conservatives are all so heavily invested in the success of
Iraq that instead of blaming the Pentagon for some extraordinary
blunders, they want to blame everyone else the State Department,
the Iranians, the Syrians for the mess that was partly of their
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World