Iran Failing in Iraq?

Image here. Iraqi Army unit with American soldiers.

Vali Nasr pens a very interesting piece today in the Washington Post here.  He argues that Iran has taken a major hit in Iraq with the offensive by Maliki against the Mahdi Army.


Iran wants U.S. forces to leave Iraq and assumes that a friendly Shiite government would then protect Iran’s interests. Tehran has looked to Gen. Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards‘ Quds Force, to manage its strategy of supporting Shiite unity and resisting American occupation. But these efforts do not go hand in hand. The first means supporting stability and state-building and working with Iraq’s government; the second involves building violent militias that undermine government authority.

For Nasr these two were in tension with voices like anti-Ahmadinejad/Revolutionary Guards Ali Larijani and Tehran Mayor Mohammed Qalibaf (likely next president of Iran) were calling for full support of the Iraqi government and the end of supporting rogue elements of the Mahdi Army.  Or not so rogue elements of the Mahdi Army according to some reports.

This points out how useless the American policy of ratcheting up pressure with Iran via Iraq has been.  The clear and obvious alliance was always pro-Shia government (not Sadr) between the two countries.

I think Vasr may overestimate the degree to which Sadr has lost out (I’ve learned never to underestimate that guy) and how this might give the US leverage to negotiate with Iran (from a position of strength–which would be fine by me, I’m for negotiations and ending this ludicrously and dangerously ignorant policy of Iranian isolation) but this sounds correct to me:

Iran still has considerable influence in Iraq. It may reconstitute the Mahdi Army and pick up the fight against America, using special groups of the type suspected in the Baghdad car bombing Tuesday. It may also try to use nationalist opposition to the U.S.-Iraq “status of forces” agreement to its advantage. But Tehran will find it difficult to regain lost turf in Baghdad or Basra, or to go back to happily supporting Shiites both at the center and in the militias. It will have to choose whether it is with the state or the sub-state actors.

As much as I have criticized Bush & Co. (rightly) for their wrongheaded position vis a vis Iran, there is also the revolutionary-expansionist wing of Iran that is a serious part of the problem (equally wanting to ratchet up for their own political ideology), the response to which I’ve always thought is that if they think they are so smart and can handle Iraq, give it to them and watch it be their Poland or Vietnam or whatever analogy you prefer.

On the other hand, there is still a fundamental inconsistency not mentioned by Nasr regarding the Maliki government.  How can the central government be strong via parties that seek regional autonomy?  Unless the government is a function of the achievement of power via militias.  The Maliki and SIIC militias may be better in terms of market reforms, women not being forced as much into Islamist garb/oppression, but there still remains the question of why the US should be inserting itself into an intra-Shia theocratic fight.  But if it does for God’s sake, make common cause with the elements of Iran that want to support this militia (over Sadr).  What you can’t have, and which we do, is the Maliki/SIIC position while maintaining the anti-Iran position thereby failing to see the parties within Iran jockeying for power and neutralizing the US ability to empower elements more to its liking.

Though of course I am forgetting, Israel’s truce with Hamas is a victory for Iran and now come to think of it, I’m an appeaser.  So you probably shouldn’t listen to what I have to say on the matter.

Published in: on June 19, 2008 at 6:19 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. CJ

    Please expand on the revolutionary-expansionist wing of Iran.

    Why should Iran chose between Maliki or Sadr, classical American and English foreign policy techniques is to arm and fund both sides of the conflict, especially in this case. Use one to off-set the other, as we seen Maliki was ready to sign away sovereignty of Iraq to the U.S., but it was through the pressure os Sistani and Sadr made him back off.

    The Iraqi gov’t is held up with smoke and mirrors and are suceptible to U.S. pressures and bribes, so in this instance Iran support Sadr and the Iraqi nationalism, however at the same time when the Iraqi gov’t stand up for sovereignty, Iran supports it against attempts to weaken it such as Sadr.

    As far as the piece on the Hamas truce being a victory for Iran, it appears to be a over exaggeration of Iran’s power as seemingly painting it as a unilateral force i.e. Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza. Maybe Hizbollah in Lebanon but Gaza and Syria are a stretch, as we see Iran struggles to maintain control of it main Shia surrogates in Iraq, not to mention a cross-regional, cross-sectarian surrogates. These are three distinct movements, with three distinct plans against a common enemy it is not a monolithic force. In Al Qaeda’s recent tapes, bin Laden is talking about destroying Israel, is this also Iran.

    Classical tecniques, when superior country tries to justify going to war against a far lesser opponent, you have to exaggerate the threat, as we see in the build up to the Iraq war throw around words like WMDs and mushroom clouds.

  2. e,

    Yeah the link to the Oren article was snark on my part.

    With regards to Iran. Generally it would be broken up into Reformers (Khatami), Conservatives (Rafsanjani, Larijani, Tehran’s Mayor) and the Revolutionaries/Radicals (Ahmadinejad being the mouthpiece for them). They are pushing the militarization of Iranian politics which is already sowing bad fruits in Iraq and mostly certainly will if unchecked lead them into regional conflict and possibly a war with the US.

    The danger has been the non-zero sum interaction between the radicals and the Bushies (themselves radicals) who are really underneath allies in an effort to push the envelope on further escalating the so-called War on Terror.

    But even with some temporary loss of prestige, as soon as (and even before as we saw with Iran putting the kaibosh on the bases deal) the US starts it drawdown, Iran fills (to an even greater extent then they already do) the vacuum. The Shia, whichever one is in power in Iraq, are going to need Iran. Period.

    This is why I think it would be best for the US to disengage from both Iraq and Iran and let them sort it out themselves.

    peace. cj

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