Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Iranian timeline in Iraq

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Two interesting developments:

1) AP: "Democrats intend to draft an Iraq war-funding bill without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops".

2) NPR: "[T]he Pentagon is considering maintaining a core group of forces in Iraq, possibly for decades".

On the Democratic compromise, see The Anonymous Liberal, who provides this cogent analysis. Although some on the left may be angry with the Democrats for making this significant concession,

[B]y any reasonable metric, the Democrats have already won this debate. The public supports their position by a 70/30 margin. The problem is that this president is immune to normal political pressures. He's been resigned for some time now to the fact that only about 30% of the country is with him on this. And he knows that that 30% is pretty solidly behind him. He's not running for re-election, and he cares only about his long term legacy. In other words, despite having lost the political fight, he feels no pressure to concede.

What that means is that no matter how well the Democrats manage to frame this funding stalemate, no matter how unreasonable they manage to make Bush look, he will not give an inch.

In other words, there's not much the Democrats can do, at least until January '09. Bush was never going to agree to a timeline, and, in my view, a timeline wasn't in the Democrats' best interests regardless. They've made their points, backed Bush and his Republican supporters into a corner, and, if this bill passes, set up another and likely more pressing battle with Bush once the fiscal year ends at the end of September, General Petraeus offers his assessment of the surge (which isn't working), and a few more months of Republican discontent, as well as ongoing failure in Iraq, have passed.


But there is another player here: Iran. And it has its own agenda for Iraq:

Iran is secretly forging ties with al-Qaida elements and Sunni Arab militias in Iraq in preparation for a summer showdown with coalition forces intended to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal, US officials say.

"Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it's a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces," a senior US official in Baghdad warned. "They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government]."

The official said US commanders were bracing for a nationwide, Iranian-orchestrated summer offensive, linking al-Qaida and Sunni insurgents to Tehran's Shia militia allies, that Iran hoped would trigger a political mutiny in Washington and a US retreat. "We expect that al-Qaida and Iran will both attempt to increase the propaganda and increase the violence prior to Petraeus's report in September [when the US commander General David Petraeus will report to Congress on President George Bush's controversial, six-month security "surge" of 30,000 troop reinforcements]," the official said.

So Iran may be supporting both sides of the key sectarian divide with the goal of intensifying the insurgency over the summer so as to force the U.S. out of Iraq.

Does this make sense? Sort of. Well, no.

Given the sectarian tensions in Iraq, would Iran be able to bring together for a common purpose al Qaeda and the various Sunni insurgents on one side and Shiite militias on the other? Would Iran really be able to coordinate such a plan? Would the various parties even agree to it? They are fighting each other, after all, not just the U.S.

Furthermore, Iran may very well want the U.S. out of Iraq, but Iran's position seems to be stronger with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq than it would be with the U.S. liberated from that quagmire. Once the U.S. leaves Iraq, or at least withdraws the bulk of its forces, American attention would likely turn to Iran. Of course, Iran may not be reasoning along these lines, or reasoning at all. Perhaps it believes that the U.S. has been so weakened by Iraq that it would not be able to engage Iran militarily. Perhaps it has been deluded by dreams of regional grandeur. Perhaps it truly does believe that it can act as puppetmaster to both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, that it can buy off and control both sides of the sectarian divide before ultimately asserting its control more directly in post-occupation Iraq. So much is possible with Tehran.

But isn't it also possible that much of this is just U.S. spin, a preemptive explanation for what could be an escalation in violence (both against the U.S. and more generally) over the summer? In other words -- so the spin could go, later this year -- it's not that the surge isn't working, or that there hasn't been real progress in Iraq, it's that Iran is intentionally sabotaging efforts to achieve peace and stability by supporting both Sunni and Shiite elements against the U.S. and the Iraqi government. Put another way, it seems that the U.S. is shifting the blame for failure in Iraq to Iran.

What this also means, if true, is that the U.S. could use alleged Iranian intervention in Iraq -- the "proxy war" against the U.S. -- as an excuse to launch a military campaign against Iran. If Iran is already waging war against the U.S., after all, wouldn't the U.S. be fully justified in responding?

Vice President Cheney recently talked tough on Iran, and there is certainly a desire among the warmongers, including some of the leading neocons, to engage Iran militarily. Here, according to the spin, is just the sort of excuse they've been looking for.

All of which is to say, let's see. The article in The Guardian relies on the claims of an anonymous U.S. official in Baghdad. The appropriate response to the claims of an anonymous U.S. official in Baghdad is skepticism. Although Iran may very well have a new agenda for Iraq, and although that agenda may very well involve playing both sides against the U.S., it would be foolish to accept the claims of an anonymous official in Baghdad without considering how the U.S. is playing this game.

Everyone has an agenda, after all.

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