Anyone 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
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.
"The new 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.
Moreover, Cole 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.
"While 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,"
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 soil."
This indeed 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 unfazed.
By empowering 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
"Such 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.
"The real 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.
"The Iranians 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."
Contrary to 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.
"In 1982, 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."
Since coming 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.
Accords were 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.
Last month's 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 neoconservatives
"It was 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.
Meanwhile, 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
Indeed, as 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.
While 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.
(Inter Press Service)