Meet Iraq, the next Iran

iraq iran.jpg
A marriage made in Mecca? Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Iranian VP Mohammad Reza Aref proclaim their friendship in Tehran.

If you are thinking the scenario of Iraq becoming an Iranian sister state is far-fetched, please leave this blog now and read this detail-rich article that walks you through the evolution of this blossoming friendship and its implications. (Requires that you watch a 20-second advertisement.) I’d like to paste the whole thing, but for economy’s sake I’ll snip a few of the best parts.

Iraq’s new government has been trumpeted by the Bush administration as a close friend and a model for democracy in the region. In contrast, Bush calls Iran part of an axis of evil and dismisses its elections and government as illegitimate. So the Bush administration cannot have been filled with joy when Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and eight high-powered cabinet ministers paid an extremely friendly visit to Tehran this week.

The two governments went into a tizzy of wheeling and dealing of a sort not seen since Texas oil millionaires found out about Saudi Arabia. Oil pipelines, port access, pilgrimage, trade, security, military assistance, were all on the table in Tehran. All the sorts of contracts and deals that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney had imagined for Halliburton, and that the Pentagon neoconservatives had hoped for Israel, were heading instead due east.

Jaafari’s visit was a blow to the Bush administration’s strategic vision, but a sweet triumph for political Shiism. In the dark days of 1982, Tehran was swarming with Iraqi Shiite expatriates who had been forced to flee Saddam Hussein’s death decree against them. They had been forced abroad, to a country with which Iraq was then at war. Ayatollah Khomeini, the newly installed theocrat of Iran, pressured the expatriates to form an umbrella organization, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which he hoped would eventually take over Iraq. Among its members were Jaafari and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. On Jan. 30, 2005, Khomeini’s dream finally came true, courtesy of the Bush administration, when the Supreme Council and the Dawa Party won the Iraqi elections.
It was not only history that brought Jaafari to the foothills of the Alborz mountains. The Iraqi prime minister was attempting to break out of the box into which his government has been stuffed by the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. Jaafari’s government does not control the center-north or west of the country and cannot pump much petroleum from Kirkuk because of oil sabotage. Trucking to Jordan is often difficult. The Jaafari government depends heavily on the Rumaila oil field in the south, but lacks refining capability. Iraq lacks a deep water port on the Gulf and needs to replace inland “ports” like Amman because of poor security. An initiative toward the east could resolve many of these problems, strengthening the Shiites against the Sunni guerrillas economically and militarily and so saving the new government.

Iraq’s Eastern Policy does not come without at least symbolic costs. On Saturday, Jaafari made a ceremonial visit to the tomb of Ayatollah Khomeini, on which he laid a wreath. In a meeting with Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei on Monday, according to the Tehran Times, Jaafari “called the late Imam Khomeini the key to the victory of the Islamic Revolution, adding, ‘We hope to eliminate the dark pages Saddam caused in Iran-Iraq ties and open a new chapter in brotherly ties between the two nations.'” The American right just about had a heart attack at the possibility (later shown false) that newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been among the militants who took U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979. But the hostage takers had been blessed by Khomeini himself, to whom Jaafari was paying compliments.
For his polite forbearance as his Iranian hosts boasted of the superiority of their Islamic government and grumbled about all those trouble-making American troops in the Iraqi countryside, Jaafari was richly rewarded. Iran offered to pay for three pipelines that would stretch across the southern border of the two countries. Iraq will ship 150,000 barrels a day of light crude to Iran to be refined, and Iran will ship back processed petroleum, kerosene and gasoline. The plan could be operational within a year, according to Petroleum Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, whose father is a prominent Shiite cleric.

In addition, Iran will supply electricity. Iran will sell Iraq 200,000 tons of wheat. Iran is offering Iraq use of its ports to transship goods to Iraq. Iran is offering a billion dollars in foreign aid. Iran will step up cooperation in policing the borders of the two countries. Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei has called for the preservation of the territorial integrity of Iraq.

It only gets better.

Nothing else seems to upset “supporters” of the war than bringing up this nightmare, and not one has addressed it yet except to argue that it doesn’t exist, period, end of discussion. In fact, it is now the only solution we have if we’re to get out. The insurgents cannot be defeated, but they must not be allowed to win. And the only way to ensure that is to prepare Shiite militias and the Iraq army to fight them once we are gone so they can continue the battle without us (proabably for years to come, like the IRA). And this wll also require extensive military help from fellow Shiite state Iran.

Just today Maureen Dowd tells us how Shiite theocrats in Iraq are quickly reducing womens’freedoms. And the party’s just getting started. Life under Saddam was no picnic, but a theocratic dictatorship hostile to women, Jews, gays, America and Israel was not what we were told would arise from his ashes at the cost of all those US lives and dollars. Is this what we gave those lives up for?

Have no illusions. This is where we are heading, even if the new constitution doesn’t say so (like China’s, it’s just a piece of paper unless it’s enforced). Even if there’s a coalition government in place when we leave. It’s coming because this is what they want, an Islamic state with Israel prominently featured as its enemy and Allah as its god and savior. And since we promised them democracy and because we never thought it through, we’re going to be stuck with it, yet another source of grief for the Middle East and the precise opposite of the bill of goods we were all sold.

The Discussion: 14 Comments


August 13, 2005 @ 11:37 pm | Comment

So you think Bush would seriously consider nuking Iran? This is a blatantly obvious scare tactic (and I don’t blame Bush for doing it, by the way; I think he has to). How about addressing the issue you never go near, i.e., our boys possibly dying for an Iranian-backed theocracy? I’m waiting…

August 14, 2005 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

Here’s what gets me…our military is so bogged down in Iraq, the reserve and national guard system is in shreds, that even if we wanted to go to war against Iran, we couldn’t do it, other than an air campaign…

August 14, 2005 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

First, this article is by Juan Cole, who’s hardly an impartial source.

Second, I’d be interested in the evidence that the Iraqi people “want, an Islamic state with Israel prominently featured as its enemy and Allah as its god and savior.” Are there polls on this? We’ve heard this argument since the war started, and yet there’s not much evidence of mass support for Iranian-style theocracy…there’s not even support for it in Iran anymore, as election results and boycotts in certain races have demonstrated. What would Iraqi polls have to say for you to change your mind?

Third, Iran and Iraq have a history, so to speak. I have no idea how their relationship will shape up in the future, but I’d prefer a trading relationship (this seems to be the prime focus of the actual evidence presented in the article) to a confrontational one, wouldn’t you? The real problem is not gaining Iranian support to fight the insurgency, but the fact that the Iranians may be aiding the insurgency, as recent weapons discoveries demonstrate.

That’s why I didn’t understand this part of your post:
“The insurgents cannot be defeated, but they must not be allowed to win. And the only way to ensure that is to prepare Shiite militias and the Iraq army to fight them once we are gone so they can continue the battle without us (proabably for years to come, like the IRA). And this wll also require extensive military help from fellow Shiite state Iran.”

If the Iranians are aiding the insurgency, why would the Iraqi government turn to them to train troops to fight it?

To the extent you can give the Iranians an interest in a relationship with the Iraqi government, this doesn’t seem so overwhelmingly negative to me.

August 14, 2005 @ 4:10 pm | Comment

Hate to tell you, but so far Juian Cole has been right across the board when it comes to Iraq. He is unbiased and fair, and is mainly accused of bias and prejudice because he dares to be critical of Israel, the kiss of death among the neo-cons.

No matter what you think of Cole, the descriptions of the PM’s recent trip to Tehran and what was said can be found in all the news wires. So don’t do a Cindy Sheehan on Cole, though that’s always the first impulse, to kill the messenger.

I admit I’m not sure who Iran is helping when it comes to the “insurgents,” because there’s more than one school of insurgents. They may well be helping the militant Moqtada Sadr-type Shiite militias, and maybe the Sunnis though I don’t know. No matter who they are helping, their deals with Iraq’s new government are a matter of fact, not speculation, and the Iraqi PM has turned to them for military and other assistance. Fact.

And it seems only you and a handful of neo-con die-hards now believe there will be real democracy in Iraq. From E & P:

According to the Post report, by Robin Wright with Ellen Knickmeyer from Baghdad, U.S. officials are only now absorbing the reality of the situation.

“The Bush administration,” they write, “is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad. The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.”

The Post reporters add that “the realities of daily life are a constant reminder of how the initial U.S. ambitions have not been fulfilled in ways that Americans and Iraqis once anticipated. Many of Baghdad’s 6 million people go without electricity for days in 120-degree heat. Parents fearful of kidnapping are keeping children indoors…. Analysts estimate that in the whole of Iraq, unemployment is 50 percent to 65 percent.”

Crucially, the U.S. not only underestimated the strength of the insurgency, but also the insistence of the Shiites and Kurds on looking out for their own interests, not in creating a true democracy. The new constitution will likely requires laws that comply with Islam, with women’s rights limited.

“We didn’t calculate the depths of feeling in both the Kurdish and Shiite communities for a winner-take-all attitude,” said Judith S. Yaphe, a former CIA Iraq analyst at the National Defense University.

Last week, the reporters point out, was the fourth-worst week of the whole war for U.S. military deaths in combat, and August already is the worst month for deaths of members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The reporters conclude: “Washington now does not expect to fully defeat the insurgency before departing, but instead to diminish it, officials and analysts said. There is also growing talk of turning over security responsibilities to the Iraqi forces even if they are not fully up to original U.S. expectations, in part because they have local legitimacy that U.S. troops often do not.

“’We’ve said we won’t leave a day before it’s necessary. But necessary is the key word — necessary for them or for us? When we finally depart, it will probably be for us,’ a U.S. official said.”

The Chicago Tribune report, based on interviews by reporters in the heartland plus recent opinion polls, opens: “As surely as sweet-corn stands and rolling farmland give way to the boxlike tract housing of new suburbs here, President Bush is losing ground on the battlefield of public opinion when it comes to the war in Iraq….Frustration and perplexity are voiced from Southern California to Terre Haute, Ind….

“Even among Republicans who cheered the invasion of Iraq two years ago, and some who supported Bush’s re-election and his exhortation to ‘stay the course,’ the ongoing loss of American life without a clear course for withdrawal is taking a toll.

We will leave before they’re fully ready to fight the insurgents, and have to turn to Iran – but we know that, they’ve got that ball in motion already.

Since they demand Islam’s tenets be the foundation of their government, an anti-Israel policy is built into it. Period. They have made it clear, to the Bush people’s frustration, that they will not recognize Israel. If Bush gets them to finally agree to do so, it will be ignored or struck down the minute we leave. Iraqi people have never been pro-Israel, quite the contrary. If you think most Iraqis want a neutral or pro-Israel policy, we may as well end all the dialogue, as you are not living in reality.

August 14, 2005 @ 5:54 pm | Comment

Oh, and the Anti-Defamation League is upset about this too!

Concerned that the Iraqi national constitution contains, “blatant anti-Israel discrimination in the draft text,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has urged the U.S. State Department to encourage the drafters to remove the objectionable language.

“We hope the United States will encourage the drafters of the constitution to remove this objectionable, blatant anti-Israel discrimination in the draft text,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “We are all hopeful that a democratic Iraq will be protected by a constitution that is free from bias and discrimination and will serve as a model for the entire region.”

In a July 27 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the League noted that Article 1, Section 3 of the draft constitution states that, “Any individual with another nationality (except for Israel) may obtain Iraqi nationality” and Article 4 states that, “Any Iraqi may have more than one nationality as long as the nationality is not Israel.”

Logan, do you read the newspapers? Have you honestly not heard about the Iraqis refusing to recognize Israel? I’m sorry, I can’t keep running around to document stuff that you should know about if you want to discuss these issues seriously.

August 14, 2005 @ 5:57 pm | Comment

“Logan, do you read the newspapers? Have you honestly not heard about the Iraqis refusing to recognize Israel? I’m sorry, I can’t keep running around to document stuff that you should know about if you want to discuss these issues seriously.”

Cut this crap out. It’s childish. My argument above, based on any reasonable interpretation, was that I asked you for evidence that Iraqis supported an Iranian-style theocracy. I see none of that provided above. Instead, you focused on the Israel component. There is no Revolutionary Council of mullahs proposed in the Iraqi constitution; the Islamic basis of the constitution juxtaposed with its democratic selection process is one of the key arguments behind establishing an Islamic democracy in the heart of the Middle East. I am disappointed that the Iraqi government will not recognize Israel, but when did this become the critical litmus test for the success or failure of the Iraqi constitution?

Also, I’d be interested in your justification of this statement:
“Since they demand Islam’s tenets be the foundation of their government, an anti-Israel policy is built into it. Period. ”
Which Islamic tenets require opposition to Israel, in existence since 1948? Isn’t the key issue the interpretation of Islamic law that governs Iraq? In this situation, the creation of an Iraqi democracy deals a powerful blow against those who oppose the “hideous schizophrenia” of modern life that places God in one place and one’s everyday life in another, along with the man-made selection of laws through democratic systems of government (I’m citing Sayyid Qutb, but he’s not in newspapers). This is why they (the Islamist insurgents) are fighting the creation of a democratic Iraq so vigilantly.

August 14, 2005 @ 6:39 pm | Comment

And I’m the one not reading the newspapers? Did you check this from the link you provided to the ADL post?

“Update: The source of the wording for the draft Iraqi constitution cited by this release was a translation by Professor Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Later versions of the draft text of the Iraqi Constitution do not include the language mentioning Israel or Israelis.”

Or I suppose this just demonstrates that once the US leaves this language will be reinserted. That’s the predictable response, and a completely unfalsifiable one.

August 14, 2005 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

Logan, think about it. The Iraqis put that language in. We pressured them to take it out, as I said we probably would. Do you in your heart believe Iraq is pro-Israel? If so, why did they specifically single out Israel in their constitution as a nation trhey will not recognize? Iraq is and will be an enemy to Israel. They have been for fifty years. Just as the Chinese are opposed to an independent Taiwan. You don’t change that mentality with a piece of paper.

I like the way you call them “the Islamist insurgents.” It’s also “the Islamist government”! And if most of the insurgents are Saddam followers, they aren’t enslaved to the tenets of Islam, certainly not the way many of the Shiites now in power are! Look what these same people have done in Iran. Anyway, as I said, it’s like hitting my head against the wall, arguing with you. Now that I see you believe Iraq is or can be pro-Israel, I really and truly give up.

August 14, 2005 @ 7:55 pm | Comment

Richard, these are distortions of what I have said. There is a significant distinction between being pro-Israel, recognizing Israel, and singling out Israel in the constitution. I’ll let objective readers decide based on what I’ve written. But if it’s an Islamist government, how do you explain the insurgency? Don’t they already have what they want? And I don’t want any more groundless accusations of “cherry-picking” quotes after that selection from the ADL statement.

Carrying over from the other thread, I’ll drop all of my posting for a while. The ironic thing, of course, is that you and I agree on most things China-related, and that’s probably what makes us Americans. You do have a fairly significant conservative or libertarian readership on this site, as they often backchannel me and let me know. I’d imagine they come here for the same reason I do: the China coverage. However, my site is a tiny newcomer; I get very little traffic and most of it is exchange rate or economy-related (which is all that I really claim to know anything about). If you’ll notice, I don’t have a single Iraq-related posting on my entire blog (I’ll stand corrected if untrue, but I think that’s right). But upon parting (from posting, not reading), please examine your myths and stand ready to change your mind upon confronting evidence. The Clinton is universally beloved/there was “no” justification for war/oil/vengeance/acting like a war president stuff should stop, because you do respect evidence, and argue well, so you should be able to do better than this. Talk to y’all later.

August 14, 2005 @ 8:22 pm | Comment

Just one more clarification- couldn’t resist. I assume, for the purposes of my argument, that the insurgency (at least its most violent faction) is dominated by Al Qaeda members and foreign fighters, rather than former Baathists. I know they’re there, but the nature of the insurgency seems to be shifting toward the foreign fighters.

August 14, 2005 @ 8:25 pm | Comment

“A theocratic dictatorship hostile to women, Jews, gays, America and Israel”… could almost be referring to the Vatican…
Think you’re spot-on Other Lisa-The US has never shown any compunction to bomb a country’s people and infrastructure (bridges, hospitals etc. before being paid to help rebuild it) from the safety of 30,000 feet.Why would Iran be any different? Israel did it a couple of decades ago with no ill effects to it. Iraq was just a special case where troops were needed as Iraq had already suffered as much as it could and it needed a new regime completely without the risk of a worse one overthrowing Saddam. The joke is, The US have managed to directly do just that, the very thing they sent in troops to prevent. I still don’t understand- Saddam couldn’t fly his planes within nearly half of his country’s airspace due to the Anglo-American no-fly zone. How again was he a threat? Besides having the ability to send missiles to Cyprus….

August 14, 2005 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

I’ve never made a big deal of the oil argument here, though others have. It was definitely a factor; we wouldn’t commit so much manpower, ever, if our interests (oil) weren’t threatened. I am also being a little tongue in cheek when I glorify Clinton to God-like status, mainly to irritate the neo-cons who are not being tongue in cheek when they compare him to Satan.

the nature of the
insurgency seems to be shifting toward the foreign fighters.

I believe this is a myth. There are cetainly some foreigners there, but the vast majority of the insurgets are Iraqis. Remember Najaf and Fallujah and the footage of ordinary Iraqis tearing Americans into pieces? And today, nearly all of the captured insurgents are Iraqis, from what I’ve read (though onestly I haven’t heard much about this recently).

I am not knocking your site for its traffic, whether it’s greater or less than my own. I was saying that if so many readers think I’m a moron what are they doing here and why do so many spend so many long hours through the day and night engaging with me?

I have a tough situation here, appealing to libertarians and conservatives (and enlightened liberals like myself) for my views on China, and infuriating them with my views on America. Well, that’s who I am and I’m not changing – unless I really do see tangible evidence of results-as-promised in Iraq. Then I will publicly admit I was wrong. But in all sincerity, I see no happy ending and no justification for the whole bungled mess. I’d like to be wrong. But so far I and 62 percent of all Americans believe the invasion was a mistake.

August 15, 2005 @ 9:23 am | Comment

I think it’ll be an interesting test of whether the neocons actually do want democracy in the Middle East, even if they don’t like the results. Polling data in Iraq (such as there is) has generally indicated support for the principle of democracy – it’s just that in a free and fair election, most Iraqis would vote for a much greater role for Islam in the country’s laws than mostly secular Europeans or mostly Christian Americans would like. In principle, that isn’t incompatible with regular, free and fair elections which determine the composition of the government – and the bottom line is that if neoconservatives were expecting to fashion a secular, Western-style democracy in Iraq, they were always going to be sadly disappointed. An Iranian-aligned Iraq, though, won’t be a very stable democracy … I would expect a slide back to authoritarianism after the UK-US withdrawal.

I particularly liked the following quote from that article:

“The Iranian nuclear research program will almost certainly continue, since the Iranians are bright enough to see what happened to the one member of the “axis of evil” that did not have an active nuclear weapons program.”

Exactly – if there’s one thing the Iraq war did, it massively undermined efforts to prevent proliferation. The crystal-clear message was that if you had nuclear weapons or other WMD, the US wouldn’t be able to touch you and would have to negotiate (North Korea). Without them, you weren’t safe from a unilateral war – the UN and the international community would be swept aside by Washington. So it makes sound sense for any dictator who isn’t in the West’s good books to aim to acquire WMD as quickly as possible as protection.

August 15, 2005 @ 10:48 am | Comment

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