Iranian Involvement in Iraq by Philip Giraldi (Originally written back in 2008)
The United States government has been arguing since 2005 that Iran is “interfering” in neighboring Iraq. At a political level, the interference is alleged to involve supporting Shi’ite surrogates groups, frequently incorporating militias, who are not cooperating in the development of a pluralistic democracy in Baghdad. Iran is also allegedly making more difficult the establishment of security inside Iraq through its support of insurgents who are attacking both United States and multinational troops as well as Iraqi security forces. Although the United States can be reasonably viewed as having itself interfered in Iraq through its invasion of the country in 2003, the charges are nevertheless serious and should be regarded as credible.
It might reasonably be assumed that Iran is engaged in the politics of its neighbor Iraq. It would be surprising if it were not, given the longstanding relationships with several Iraqi political groups and the tie of Shi’ism, which is the religion of most Iranians and Iraqis. Iran must also perceive an existential security threat due to the presence of 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq coupled with a regular flow of belligerent language emanating from Washington. Tehran would certainly want to manage and contain that threat if at all possible.
The question then becomes the extent to which Iranian involvement exceeds acceptable interaction. If Iran is opposing political reconciliation and reconstruction in Iraq, it considerably narrows the options that the US can pursue to stabilize the country and eventually disengage from it. If Iran is arming, training, or directing insurgents and militias to attack US, multinational, and Iraqi forces Washington has an obligation to craft an appropriate response to counter the threat and preserve American lives. But are the allegations about Iran’s interference true? If there has been one lesson coming out of the Iraq experience it is that even well intentioned officials at the highest level in the United States government can be wrong in their assessments. Worse still, some officials might have actually been willing to play hard and fast with the truth in order to support a political agenda that might have otherwise been unsustainable. That politicians from both parties and also the mainstream media use their bully pulpits to confirm Iranian perfidy should provide little comfort: both were generally unquestioning in their support of the contrivances that led to the Iraq war in the first place. There are undeniably many in Washington who are actively seeking a war with Iran and who are willing to do whatever it takes to bring that about. Some have employed the mantra “they are killing our soldiers” to stoke the emotional fires and make military action against Iran appear to be justified.
The public has an obligation to be skeptical, particularly as too ready acceptance of the case against Iran might ultimately involve the issue of war and peace with the United States pitted against an adversary far more formidable than Saddam Hussein. This paper seeks to examine a number of issues relating to Iran and its role in Iraq. First is the question of what exactly Iran is doing inside Iraq. Is it training, equipping, funding, and sometimes directing insurgents and militiamen who are attacking American soldiers? Is it already “at war” with the United States, as a number of leading politicians and media pundits contend? Second, if Iran is playing a role in Iran short of that of a belligerent, what precisely has been its level of engagement? What is the history of Iranian involvement with the Shi’ite politicians who are now dominant in Iraq and what reciprocity exists? What do the Iraqis think about Iran and its ambitions? Third, what is Iran’s role in the broader context of Near Eastern politics and how does that condition its concerns about Iraq and the American presence? How do Shi’ite historical vulnerabilities influence Tehran policies towards Iraq and towards the Sunni ruled states surrounding the Persian Gulf? Finally, given all of the above, what is the appropriate United States response? Is containment of Iran an option or should there be intensive bilateral engagement between Washington and Tehran? Is the problem larger than that, requiring a multilateral response to mitigate security concerns of both Iran and its neighbors?
- Allegations that Iran is supplying weapons, training, and money to Iraqi insurgents and militias that are targeting Americans
On March 3rd, 2008, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, greeting visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, stated that “I think that the level of trust is very high, and I say frankly that the position Iran has taken recently was very helpful in bringing back security and stability.”1 Al-Maliki was referring to Iran’s commitment to use its good offices to help restrain groups inside Iraq that are opposed to the establishment of a viable national government. Not everyone would agree with that assessment, however. There has been a great deal of critical commentary by American generals and politicians regarding the alleged Iranian role in the insurgency in Iraq, including allegations that Iran is already at war with the United States.
Sophisticated roadside bombs using shaped charges, initially referred to as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and more recently as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), first appeared in Iraq in the summer of 2004. General John Vines reported on the weapon in June 2005, stating that it was being used by Sunni insurgents and was likely produced by ordnance experts from the disbanded Iraqi Army.2
The first suggestion that Iran might be involved with such weapons in an attempt to destabilize the situation in Iraq came from a Pentagon leaked story that appeared on August 4th, 2005, stating that US soldiers had “intercepted” shaped charges “smuggled into northeastern Iran only last week.” Shaped charges, which eventually evolved into Explosively Formed Penetrators, are the basic components of roadside bombs, which were the most successful weapons being used against the so-called Multi-National Force headed by the US. Northeastern Iraq borders Iran. The NBC version of the story stated that “it could not have happened without the full consent of the Iranian government.”3
A few days later on August 9th, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld returned to the issue of Iranian interference, stating that the shaped charges were “clearly, unambiguously from Iran.”4 On October 5th, 2005, an unnamed senior British official told the BBC that shaped charges killing British troops had come from Hezbollah in Lebanon “via Iran.”5 On the next day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair attributed the bombs to “Iranian elements or to Hezbollah,” though he admitted that he had no evidence for the assertion.6
President George W. Bush in a briefing on March 11th, 2006 raised directly for the first time the issue of Iranian interference, warning that “…if the Iranians are trying to influence the outcome of the political process, or the outcome of the security situation there, we’re letting them know our displeasure.”7 In a press conference two days later he stated “Some of the most powerful IEDs we’re seeing in Iraq today came from Iran.” Bush quoted Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, “Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militia with the capability to build improvised explosive devices.”8
In September 2006, General John Abizaid reported that a single sophisticated Russian made RPG-29 anti-tank weapon had been found in Iraq. He said it was “unclear” how it had arrived in the country, but went on to suggest that it came from Hezbollah which “indicates…an Iranian connection.”9 Major General Richard Zahner gave a press conference on September 28th in which he said that Iran’s involvement in weapons production for insurgents was proven because the C-4 explosive used in EFPs had the same batch number as explosives found on a Hezbollah ship carrying arms to Palestinians that was seized by Israelis in 2003. He said that only the Iranian military could permit access to such military grade explosives.10
In October 2006, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns complained that Iran was supplying “very sophisticated arms” to Shi’ite insurgents and to terrorists in Iraq.11 A month later, on November 27th, 2006 an anonymous senior American intelligence official told The New York Times that Hezbollah had been training as many as 1-2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and that Iran was “…a link to Lebanese Hezbollah and helped facilitate Hezbollah training inside Iraq.” The official also asserted that Iran seeks “a managed instability in the near term” inside Iraq to “bog down the American military.” The Times also reported that “American officials” claim the Iranians are providing explosives and trigger devices for roadside bombs as well as training in Iran and quoted General John P. Abizaid concerning the Hezbollah-Iranian connection, “We saw it in Lebanon. So to me, No.1, it indicates an Iranian connection.”12
On November 30th, 2006, ABC news reported an anonymous senior defense official claim of “smoking gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand new weapons fresh from Iranian factories.” The weapons were allegedly date stamped 2006, suggesting that they were going directly from factory to consumer.13
Leading American politicians not in the government also were criticizing Iran. In December 2006, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut stated that he opposed direct talks with Iran because it would be like going to “your local fire department asking a couple of arsonists to help put out the fire. These people are flaming the fire. They are extremists.”14 On July 6, 2007, Lieberman wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal entitled “Iran’s Proxy War: Tehran is on the offensive against Us throughout the Middle East. Will Congress respond?” He wrote “The Iranian government, by its actions, has all but declared war on us and our allies in the Middle East. American now has a solemn responsibility to utilize the instruments of our national power to convince Tehran to change its behavior,” employing “credible force” because Iran is bringing “about the death of American service members in Iraq.” He described how the “Iranian government has been using the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah to train and organize Iraqi extremists, who are responsible in turn for the murder of American service members.” He called Iran’s role as “hostile and violent” and complained that Tehran’s “fanatical government” demonstrates “expansionistic, extremist behavior.” After again referring to Iran’s “fanatical regime,” he cited “attacks on American soldiers” as a reason why Iran “must be confronted head on.”
On December 29th, 2006, Lieberman continued his attack, writing an op-ed for The Washington Post entitled “Why we need more Troops in Iraq,” in which he explained the situation in the Middle East in simple terms: “On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States.”
In response to the growing perception of an Iranian threat, President Bush gave orders in December to arrest Iranians inside Iraq to obtain evidence of Tehran’s interference. Several were detained in late December and five Iranian officials working in the Kurdish city Irbil were captured in a pre dawn raid by Special Forces on January 9th, 2007.
In January 2007, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was very specific about Iranian interference, charging that “…there is plenty of evidence that there is Iranian involvement with these networks that are making high explosive IEDs and that are endangering our troops, and that’s going to be dealt with.”15 In a speech on January 10th, 2007, Bush also returned to the attack, stating that “Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran…and we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”16
On January 29th, 2007, Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary said “Right now what we are seeing is some evidence that the Iranians have been involved in activities that have led to the deaths of American soldiers…And among other things they could stop smuggling arms – or at least contributing arms.”17 Lieutenant General Ray Odierno also picked up on the theme two days later, saying that “We have weapons that we know through serial numbers…that trace back to Iran.” He also added that “some of the elements to make” roadside bombs “are coming out of Iran.” He also claimed that Iran was supplying the militias with truck mounted Katyusha rockets and RPG-29s, a sophisticated rocket propelled grenade with two warheads that had devastated Israeli forces when they invaded Lebanon in July 2006.18 Curiously, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denied any administration intention to provide a document detailing how Iranians were supporting insurgents that were killing US troops.19 Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reported that the report had not been released because it was lacking in credibility.20
Signs that all of the Bush Administration was not singing off of the same sheet of music came a few days later, on February 3rd, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked if Iran was supplying Shiite militias with arms. He answered “I don’t know that we know the answer to that question.”21
On February 11th, 2007, the military in Iraq staged a major power point briefing on “Iranian Support for Lethal Activity in Iraq.” In an accompanying background briefing held in the Green Zone in Iraq, it was asserted that Iranian built bombs smuggled into Iraq had killed at least 170 US and coalition soldiers since June 2004.22 The briefing had been previously scheduled but canceled, apparently in a bid to collect more evidence. The briefers concluded that “Iran is involved in supplying explosively formed projectiles or EFPs and other material to Iraqi extremist groups.”23 A second analyst stated that Iran had increased the shipment of EFPs to Iranian Shiite groups, though it was also noted that there was not yet any “smoking gun” among the evidence that had been collected and that Iranian official involvement in the arms trafficking was an “inference.” The al-Qods force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards force was charged with having the links with “foreign militants.” A number of shell casings and seized munitions were displayed, several having apparent manufacture dates of 2006. It was also claimed that the five Iranians arrested in Irbil in January had been al-Qods Force officers.24
On February 26th, 2007, James Glanz and Richard A. Oppel of The New York Times reported that the discovery of a Shiite weapons cache in the city of Hilla provided evidence of the Iranian link to bomb making in Iraq. Infrared sensors, electronic triggering devices, and explosive material “all produce weapons with Iranian signatures that has never been found outside Iraq or southern Lebanon.” Another raid in Diyala province seized enough components to make 100 or more EFPs. According to ordnance expert Major Marty Weber, the copper disks that give EFPs their potency were machined to a flawless finish “indicating to the explosives expert that they were manufactured in Iran.” Weber also admitted, however, that the infrared sensor is similar to that used in a garage door opener and it is readily available at outlets like RadioShack. He conceded that “you can never be certain” when asked if the devices could have been engineered in Iraq, but added that it was a “no brainer” that they were Iranian because he had only seen such components in Iraq and in Lebanon, where they are used by Hezbollah.25
On the following day, the same two Times reporters witnessed a dog and pony show in a field near the Baghdad airport, where components alleged to come from Iran were on display. Apart from C-4 explosive with serial and batch numbers linking to Iran, most of the components were void of any indication of origin. The reporters noted that some of the PVC tubes used to make the bomb canisters were marked as having been manufactured in the United Arab Emirates and also in Haditha, a Sunni Arab town in Iraq.26
On April 11th, 2007, there was a media roundtable in Baghdad featuring Major General Caldwell and Major Weber. The briefing reiterated much of the information that had been provided in February and to The New York Times journalists. Caldwell asserted that the EFPs were being “manufactured and smuggled into this country” and that Iraqis were being trained in their use in Iran. He cited the information on recent training of Shiite “extremists” as coming from “detainee debriefs of some personnel that we’ve picked up” and went on to claim that Iran was training insurgents in sniper training, making EFPs , and launching rockets. Weber claimed that captured mortar rounds were “specific to Iranian manufacture.” Caldwell was also the first to state that Iranian intelligence was providing support to Sunni insurgent groups.27
On June 10, 2007, Senator Joseph Lieberman again appeared on the CBS Sunday morning show “Face the Nation” and stated “I think we’ve got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me that would include a strike into … over the border into Iran … where they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers.” He later stated that “By some estimates, they have killed as many as 200 American soldiers.”
Two weeks later, on July 2, 2007, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, referring to a spectacularly successful attack in January in Karbala that killed five American soldiers, briefed reporters that two prisoners28 had revealed “that senior leadership within the Quds Force knew of and supported planning for the eventual Karbala attack.” Bergner did not indicate that Iran had either supplied weapons or had participated in the planning, but he did say that Qods Force was supplying Shi’ite special groups with weapons and funding amounting to $750,000 to $3 million every month. Bergner also said that Qods had been using Hezbollah to train and channel weapons to Iraq, specifically to what the military refers to as “secret cells” or “special groups” that are alleged to be breakaway factions from the larger militias.29
Three weeks later, on July 24, 2007, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met with Iranian officials to discuss the security situation in Iraq. Afterwards, he said that he had told the Iranians that in the two months since the last meeting “we’ve actually seen militia related activity that could be attributed to Iranian support go up…”30
An interview with Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno on August 7th followed, reported by The New York Times on the following day. Odierno claimed that the number of attacks had gone up in July and that Tehran was increasing its support of militias, which he described as “surging” their support to “special groups,” a reference to the alleged Iranian backed militant cells. The Iranian surge was reportedly an attempt to influence negatively the report that General David Petraeus was preparing for Congress on progress in Iraq. The Times reporter wrote that “American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogation of Shiite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.”31
Lieutenant General Ray Odierno opened a new front on July 25, 2007, claiming that the increased accuracy of mortar rounds being fired into the heavily protected Green Zone in Baghdad was due to training in Iran. Odierno said “In the last three months, we have seen a significant improvement in the capability of mortar men and rocketeers to provide accurate fire into the Green Zone and other places. We think this is directly related to training conducted inside Iran.”32
On August 21st, 2007, the media jumped in, demanding a harder line. A lead editorial in The Washington Post was headed “Tougher on Iran: the Revolutionary Guard is at war with the United States. Why not fight Back?” It accepted that Iran had killed one third of all US troops who had died in Iraq in July and that fifty members of the Revolutionary Guard were operating south of Baghdad “facilitating training of Shi’ite extremists.” The Post also posited that Iran is “trying to kill as many Americans as possible.”33
A September 2007 report to Congress by the Pentagon on “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq” referred to the assassinations of two Iraqi governors in “improvised explosive device attacks believed to have been conducted by Iranian-influenced extremist groups…Most of the explosives and ammunition used by these groups are provided by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force.”34 General David Petraeus also spoke to Congress in September, stating that “It is increasingly apparent that Iran through the use of the Iranian Republican Guard Corps Qods Force seeks to turn the Shia militia extremists into a Hezbollah like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.” Petraeus also asserted in his briefing that there was hard evidence incriminating Iran that had been obtained from the drives of computers obtained when several suspects were detained in March.35
In the same month Senator Joseph Lieberman was the co-sponsor together with John Kyl of Arizona of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to the recently passed defense appropriations bill, which passed by a Senate vote of 76 to 22 on September 26th,, 2007. The amendment stated that “the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States.” Joe Lieberman also issued a press release on the subject, dated July 11th, 2007, accusing Iran of “murdering our troops” and quoting Senator John Kyl, who blamed Iran for “actively supporting terrorists who are killing our troops in Iraq.”36
On October 25, 2007, the State Department listed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Qods Force as a supporter of terrorist organizations, which requires all “US persons” to block and freeze all property that the Qods Force has an interest in. The designation US persons includes all American companies as well as all resident aliens living with the United States.37
Robin Wright of The Washington Post reported on November 7th, 2007, that Iran had made a “recent pledge” to “stop arming, training, and funding extremists in Iraq.”38 Iran has always claimed that it does not do any such thing and it is highly unlikely that any government on the face of the earth would admit to supporting armed extremists in a neighboring country, so Wright’s description of the fruit of the discussions between Tehran and Baghdad must be considered somewhat suspect. Other sources report that Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had had discussions over the security situation and that Iran had agreed to help tighten up border security to restrict the movement of privately obtained weapons that were presumably going to militias.39
Director of Central Intelligence Michael V. Hayden told Congress on November 27th, 2007 that “the Iranian hand is stoking violence in Iraq.” Hayden said he was skeptical about reports of Iran’s interference, but had changed his view after reviewing intelligence reports.”40
On November 15th, 2007, Major General James Simmons, providing a Pentagon briefing on roadside bombs, stated that all EFP caches in Iraq “originated in Iran,” that the Qods Force is responsible for all the weapons found, and that the Iranian leadership is “aware” of what is going on.41 Eleven days later, on November 26, 2007, the Voice of American reported that Colonel Don Farris, commander of coalition forces in two Baghdad neighborhoods, had described how “Iran backed Shi’ites, which he called the special groups…are continuing their attacks. (They) planted nine Iranian-designed and supplied high powered bombs…which contained explosive charges that likely came from Iran.” Farris also referred to a captured Iraqi who had “admitted to receiving training in Iran in building in building and employing these explosively formed projectiles. And another admitted to working as an agent for somebody or some group in Iran.”42
On December 7, 2007 Marine Lieutenant General John F. Sattler stated at a Pentagon news conference indicated that “Iran also was supplying weapons, training and finances to Iraqi insurgents, but there are indications that Iran has stopped this practice.” Army Lieutenant General Carter F. Ham qualified the comment, saying “But there are other indicators that weapons, munitions and training are still being provided by Iran.”43
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stated on December 19th, 2007 that there had been a reduction in “attacks that involve weapons that we believe emanated from Iran, involve techniques that we believed were probably instructed by trainers from Iran.”44 A Pentagon report dated December 24th stated that “Qods Force provides many of the explosives used by these groups…” adding there had been “no identified decrease in Iranian training and funding” of militias.45
On January 12th 2008, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker hosted a joint press briefing at Camp Arifjan Kuwait in which they said that attacks associated with the “signature weapons that are provided by Iran had gone down” but that “training…continued until recently.” Crocker said he could not draw the conclusion that Iran had moved away from “supporting extremist militant groups that are attacking our forces…”46
Five days later Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, commander of the multi-national corps in Iraq, told the media at a January 17th Pentagon briefing that the Iranians “continue to train Iraqi extremists in Iran…and continue to pay some of these extremists.” He was not sure if they were still “importing weapons” but added that many weapons were being found, including “mortar systems and rounds that are manufactured clearly in Iran” and “C-4 like material that we know has been developed in Iran.” Odierno also said that the Iranian Qods Force was supporting “groups” that had broken away from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army.47 Curiously, Odierno’s boss Robert Gates said the same day in an NPR interview that Iran is a “significant challenge” for the United States. He refused to describe it as a threat.48
An updated report from the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress entitled “Iran’s Activities and Influence in Iraq,” appeared on January 24th, 2008, shortly before the State of the Union Address. It said that “Iran is materially assisting major Shiite Muslim political factions in Iraq…and their armed militias. In late 2007 the Administration noted a decrease in Iranian weapons shipments.” Four days later, President Bush said on January 28th, 2008, in his State of the Union Address, that Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq…”
Rear Admiral Gregory Smith briefed the press in Baghdad on February 17th, 2008. He declared that there had been daily attacks carried out by “Iranian-backed special groups” using weapons that were in caches, though he added that there was no evidence of an “increase in the shipment of arms by Iran into Iraq.” He added that “The intent of Iran in supporting the training and financing we believe continues.”49
In the wake of the early March 2008 visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Baghdad, the first such visit ever made by an Iranian head of state, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno said that he had “pretty clear” evidence that Iran was training Shi’ite “special groups.” He also said that rocket attacks on visitors to Iraq were “being done by Iranian surrogates.” Admiral William Fallon, Chief of Central Command, also commented that the US had asked the Iraqi government to convey to Ahmadinejad the need for “stopping this lethal flow of equipment.”50 A week after the Ahmadinejad visit concluded, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said “We believe they continue to train the Iraqis…” General David Petraeus also commented “There is no question that Iran has continued to train the so-called special groups. We have individuals in detention…who had explained how the received the training.”51
On March 18, 2008, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain claimed that the US military had discovered a large supply of “the most lethal” copper disks used for roadside bombs, adding for good measure that Iran was training militants, assisting Hezbollah, and pursuing nuclear weapons.52
President Bush increased the heat on Iran still further on the following day, stating in an interview that the Iranians had “declared they want a nuclear weapon to destroy people,” a comment that was later modified by a White House national security spokesman who said that the president had merely been “speaking in shorthand.”53 Six days later, after Shi’ite militiamen had bombarded the Green Zone in Baghdad, General David Petraeus claimed that the missiles used had been provided by Iran. He also reiterated the allegation that Iran was supporting “elements that are paid for, they are funded, they are trained, they’ve been equipped and they’ve been directed by and large by the Iranian Quds force.”54
Fighting at the end of March 2008 between Iraqi government forces and the Mehdi Army militia ended when an Iraqi parliamentary delegation traveled to Qom and obtained the mediation of the Iranian Qods Force commander Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani. The parliamentarians were quoted as seeking a cease fire and Iranian agreement to “stop supplying weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq.”55
- Analyzing the Charges that Iran is supplying weapons, training, and money to Iraqi insurgents and militias that are targeting Americans
The claims being made by the Bush Administration, by Congress, and by the media regarding Iranian support of militants in Iraq have a number of things in common: they are generic and lacking in specificity, they are based on possibly unwarranted assumptions about Iranian interactions with other players in the region, they play fast and loose with statistics, and they seldom provide actual verifiable evidence to back up the assertions being made. One might also point out that nearly all the reports are derivative in that they build on each other to develop credibility, much like the reports about Iraq in 2002, and also that the mainstream media is generally accepting of commentary provided by anonymous official sources or by no sources at all, which is again reminiscent of Iraq. As a rule the official sources also ignore alternative explanations and do not consider existing evidence that would disprove or modify the judgments being made.56
The general nature of the charges and lack of specificity is most glaring. The central allegation being made is that Iran is smuggling sophisticated weaponry into Iraq that is being used by third parties to kill American soldiers, but even when specific claims are made they are laced with qualifying expressions like “we believe,” “possibly,” and “we have intelligence.” The accusations about Iranian behavior are particularly surprising in light of dissenting views also coming out of Washington like the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, released in an unclassified version in January 2007, which declared that Iran had no decisive influence over developments in Iraq.57
Sometimes a red herring is produced to obscure exactly what is being suggested. Over the past year, many of allegations about Iranian involvement in Iraq have focused on contact with “secret cells” or “special groups” that have reportedly broken off from the larger Shi’ite militias, most particularly the Mehdi Army of cleric Moqtaqa al-Sadr. On July 2nd, 2007, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner said “These special groups are militia extremists funded, trained, and armed by external sources, specifically, by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force operatives.”58 There is independent evidence confirming that fringe militia groups exist but the extent to which they have been able to disrupt security inside Iraq is debatable. The degree to which they might be funded by Iran is unknown.59 It should also be observed that providing support and a maintaining a relationship between two parties does not necessarily imply that one side is directing the other. Evidence suggests that all of the political groupings in Iraq are overwhelmingly driven by their domestic constituencies and political ambitions, not by Tehran. Iran, for its part, also knows its limitations. As Ray Takeyh puts it, “The rulers of the Islamic Republic have no illusions that the Shi’ites in Iraq are likely to concede to their authority…”60
It has also been noted that the arguments about Iranian involvement are logically inconsistent. The Iraqi insurgency in the period 2004-2006 was largely Sunni. That the Iranians would be supplying the Sunnis or that the Sunnis would even seek such assistance does not appear probable. In an April 2007 briefing Major General William Caldwell explained, “We have, in fact, found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence services have provided to some Sunni insurgent groups some support.” Three uses of “some” in one sentence suggest a degree of uncertainty. Even the relatively tame media at the briefing were skeptical, asking “Do the Iranians support all the militias in Iraq?”61
The first rule of verification is who, what, when where, why. There are numerous reports suggesting that Iran is supplying weapons to militias but there has not been a single report identifying weapons that can be unambiguously traced to Iran on a given day and at a given location were used to kill Americans or even to target Americans. One can reasonably argue that some of the weapons are destroyed in the attacks that actually take place making accountability difficult or impossible, but the military has reported the confiscation of numerous caches of weapons that were undamaged.62 Some of the weapons that were displayed on February 11th, 2007 in Baghdad that were reported to be Iranian in origin presumably come from weapons seizures, but two key elements to make the case against Iran were lacking. First, there was no suggestion of just how many alleged Iranian manufactured weapons have been found in Iraq. Is it in the thousands? Hundreds? Three? If only a few weapons have been found it would suggest that there has been no systematic attempt at smuggling in arms, quite the contrary. Given the fact that the briefers had already delayed their briefing once because it lacked credibility, it would be plausible to assume that the number of seized Iranian weapons is small.63
A second element that is lacking is what might be described in law enforcement terms as a chain of custody whereby the weapons can be seen to move from the Iranian government through channels controlled by that same government into the hands of insurgents and militias with the intent to use the weapons against the occupation forces. This might appear to be an impossibly high standard of proof, but if the weapons are being moved by the Iranian government in any quantity there has to be an established mechanism that is being employed. As the United States and its allies control the ground inside Iraq, it is to be presumed that smuggling mechanisms would at a minimum be identifiable using intelligence and police resources, even if the Iranians are attempting to conceal the process. This is particularly true as the identification of a mechanism that can be clearly linked to Iran would appear to be a high priority objective for the multinational force and for the Iraqi police and army.
During the February 11th 2007 Baghdad briefing it was reported that the weapons on display were labeled in English because they are manufactured in Iran designated for sale in international arms markets. Domestic-use weapons are labeled in Farsi.64 It has also been noted by military briefers that Iranian manufactured weapons apparently arrive in Iraq through the services of smugglers who operate along the border.65 Connecting the dots it is possible to come to an alternative explanation for the presence of the weapons, namely that they are bought or stolen in Iran or even elsewhere and are smuggled in by individuals profiting from the seller’s market existing in Iraq.66 That mortar rounds and other weapons are in Iraq as a deliberate policy choice by the Iranian government is certainly plausible, but no solid evidence has been presented to back up that claim.
Mortar rounds aside, the weapon of choice for the insurgency is the Explosively Formed Penetrators or EFPs, which are frequently deployed as roadside bombs against American armor. The EFP is very simple to make. It consists of a concave copper disk that is placed at the top of a tube. At the bottom of the tube is an explosive charge, usually military grade plastic explosive, attached to a detonator, which can be a wire, a remote electric device like a cell phone link, an infrared device, or a timer. The detonator causes the explosive to go off, the heat and explosive power turning the copper disk into a molten jet of metal that can penetrate as much as eight inches of steel. The EFP or variations thereof has been around for a long time. It was reportedly used under its old name “shaped charge” by the French resistance against the Germans and by the Irish Republican Army against British armored vehicles and it has been used extensively by both Hezbollah and Hamas against the Israelis.
The claim that EFPs deployed in Iraq originate in Iran is perhaps the most serious charge against the Islamic Republic. EFPs cause by far the highest casualty rate among American soldiers because of their lethality. As has been noted above, military briefers accentuate the impact of the weapon by assuming that all deaths and injuries caused by the EFP are traceable to Iran. The case against Iran basically relies on two basic arguments. The first is that the EFP is actually a sophisticated weapon that has to have its copper disk machined in a weapons shop that is accustomed to milling metal to the finest tolerances. According to those who believe in an Iranian hand in EFP attacks, it is not possible that the weapons are being produced by Iraqis without Iranian assistance. The second argument is that the EFPs being used in Iraq are similar in configuration and “signature” to the EFPs being used by the Hezbollah in Lebanon. Since Hezbollah is assumed to be a surrogate of Iran then the insurgents in Iraq must also be relying on Iran for support.
It should be evident that there are problems with both of the arguments being used to link Iran to the EFPs. First, the American military knows perfectly well that the Iraqis are more than capable of making the weapon.67 Iraq had a large and relatively sophisticated military prior to 2003. It had its own weapons shops and ordnance experts, many of whom were Sunnis and many of whom became unemployed in the spring of 2003 when the army was disbanded. In late 2005, British forces discovered an EFP factory located in Majar al-Kabir, north of Basra.68 A raid by US troops on a machine shop in Baghdad in November 2006 discovered a stack of copper disks waiting to be fitted into EFPs.69 Weapons experts who are not US Army spokesmen and therefore free to contradict the official line claim that the weapon can, in fact, be made by any reasonably competent machine shop that has a metal lathe.70 The Israelis have obtained EFPs made both by Hezbollah and by technically far less advance Hamas. One such weapon destroyed a tank in Lebanon.71 It may be true that a copper disk that is not machined precisely might deviate slightly on its flight path and might not be as devastating as one that is perfect, but in practical terms it will still work. The more probably conclusion based on available evidence is that the EFP is not a difficult weapon to make.
Second, the argument that Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgency are using the same tactics and weapons and therefore must both be controlled and directed by Iran is completely illogical. Hezbollah’s tactical independence from Iran will be discussed in greater detail below, but tactics and weapons improvisations are both derivative and evolutionary, particularly for insurgents and other unconventional fighters. It should not be surprising to see one group adopting the successful tactics and weapons of another, particularly as Hezbollah and the Mehdi Army are known to have an ongoing relationship.72 Why should anyone be surprised to see the Iraqi insurgents acquiring the know-how to make a simple weapon that costs $20 and which can knock out a $4 million tank?73
Iran has also been credited with training Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen and also funding their activity. The allegations have been repeated often enough to give them apparent credibility, but verifiable information to support the claims is lacking.74 If the US military and Iraqi government have indeed captured many insurgents who training in Iraq why is there a reticence to tell even one story providing names, dates, the location of the training, who the Iranian trainers were, and other details that might suggest that the allegations are true.75 If the US military is certain that Iran is funding militias where is the evidence? Again, when and how did it happen, where did the money come from, and who received it?76
Iran’s presumed relationship with Hezbollah is a critical part of the story. Hezbollah was founded during the Lebanese civil wars in mid-1980s. It was Iranian-backed and its original purpose was to defeat the right wing mostly Christian forces, the Phalangists, and eventually establish an Islamic republic in Lebanon. Since that time, it has also taken on the task of organizing resistance to the occupation of southern Lebanon by the Israeli Army. Like the Iranians, it is predominantly Shi’ite. Observers believe that Hezbollah continues to defer to Iran on religious and strategic issues and that it enjoys a close, fraternal relationship. But the nature of the relationship and the sense of reciprocity has shifted considerably since the summer of 2006, with Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah currently pursuing an independent policy that is much more focused on Lebanese politics. When Israel invaded southern Lebanon in July 2006 to liberate two captured soldiers, the successful resistance was orchestrated by Hezbollah itself and had little to do with Iran, though Iran did support its ally.77 The Iranian media initially criticized Hezbollah for allowing itself to get drawn into a protracted conflict with Israel, which placed Iran in a difficult position. It only became more supportive when the number of civilian casualties increased.78 Hezbollah has become a political party and a social force in Lebanon. It is a major player in the Lebanese political matrix. There is no evidence that it is currently invariably acting as a proxy for Iran even though it continues to enjoy a fraternal relationship and does support Iran where its own interests and those of Tehran converge.
Hezbollah pursues its own policy in neighboring Iraq, where it is assisting Shiite groups opposed to the United States. Hezbollah reportedly trained at least 2,000 militants belonging to the Mehdi Army of cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and there is evidence that the training has continued.79 As al-Sadr and the Mehdi Army have had a sometimes rocky relationship with Iran, the training would not necessarily be in Tehran’s interest.80
It is also reasonable to assume that if Shi’ite militias have acquired the EFP technology from someone else, it most likely would have come from Hezbollah, not from Iran. Hezbollah has employed the weapon against the Israelis since 1997 and was particularly successful using it in 2006. It has also been claimed that “intelligence indicates” that machine tools that could be used to make the copper disks that are the most difficult to produce part of the weapon were sent to Lebanon by Iran in 2006.81 The United States government contention that similarities in tactical doctrine between Hezbollah and Shi’ites in Iraq suggest a common Iranian control over both is an argument that lacks credibility.82 Given what is known about contacts between the Mehdi Army and Hezbollah, it is more likely that it is Hezbollah that has been sharing both tactics and weapons improvisation techniques directly with the Iraqi Shi’ites.
One of the most glaring peculiarities of the case against Iraq is the misuse of statistics. The often repeated charge that Iran has been responsible for 170 deaths of American soldiers, leading inevitably to “they are already at war with us” rhetoric, comes from assuming that every EFP used in Iraq is Iranian in origin and that the Iranian government is complicit in shipping the weapons or their components into Iraq. There is no evidence for either assertion. As noted above, the EFP material can be produced locally or can come from any one of a number of other sources, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.83 There is no evidence that the Iranian government is involved in the process. It would also be interesting to know to what extent EFPs have been used against the Iraqi security forces, which are predominantly Shi’ite and include many militiamen from the Badr Group supported by Iran. If only US and multinational force are being targeted that would be suggestive, but if Shi’a are also the victims it would undercut claims that the weapons are being supplied by Iran. Unfortunately, detailed statistics on the targeting in insurgent attacks in Iraq has not been made public by the military authorities, if it is being compiled at all. Also, whether EFPs used against American forces are predominantly employed in Shi’ite as opposed to Sunni areas might help to indicate their possible source. Nor is there any information on the possible use of EFPs by the two leading Shi’ite militias, the Badr Group and the Mehdi Army. Unfortunately, no such breakdown of the details of the deployment of EFPs has been released by Central Command or the Iraqi authorities.
A specific claim that as many as fifty Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been on the loose in southern Iraq training and equipping Shi’ite militias has never been demonstrated.84 One assumes that the US and Iraqi authorities have made a major effort to detain those individuals, which suggests that their existence might well be apocryphal. Arrests of five Iranian officials in Irbil in the Kurdish region on January 10, 2007 have also failed to provide a “smoking pistol” on Iranian interference,85 though the arrest of two senior guardsmen in Baghdad during a visit to leading Shi’ite politician Abdul Aziz al-Hakim in December 2006 is suggestive of an ongoing strategic relationship between Iran and the Badr Organization.86
Finally, the case for Iran’s “military interference” in Iraq is largely circumstantial. Even assuming that Tehran is meddling in Iraq whenever possible to keep the United States off balance so it cannot attack Iran, specific instances that unambiguously demonstrate Iranian involvement based on names, dates, and places do not exist, or at least the US military and the Iraqi authorities have been unwilling or unable to provide details that would support the case. Very often the tenuousness of the information is masked by vague references to intelligence sources, which presumably must be protected. This argument has some merit, but the large number of weapons caches reported seized in Iraq surely suggests that all such successes cannot be based solely on carefully protected clandestine operations. Specific verifying information on many of the seizures must be available without damaging vital sources of intelligence. Since the United States government is selectively charging Iran with offenses that might lead to war, enough credible information must be revealed to assure the public and the media that the argument has merit. The information can be carefully screened to prevent disclosure of sensitive information, but a case for war must perforce be made in a transparent fashion. This has not occurred regarding Iran, where the Bush Administration policy has been to repeatedly assert that interference in Iraq is taking place without providing the type of evidence that would unambiguously support the claim.
The Relationship between the Iranian and Iraqi Governments
In spite of the angry rhetoric coming out of Washington, the relationship between Iraq’s government and that of Iran has generally been a comfortable one.87 The two countries established full diplomatic relations in September 2004.88 In August 2006, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told an interviewer that despite numerous requests made by himself and other Shi’ite politicians, the US authorities had failed to demonstrate any real evidence supporting Iranian meddling in Iraq.89 More recently, the first visit by an Iranian head of state to Baghdad cemented the economic ties between the two countries and confirmed that “Iran is becoming Iraq’s indispensible political ally and trading partner.”90
Iran has a clearly defined national interest vis-à-vis Iraq. It does not want to see Iraq become chaotic and thereby destabilizing but it also does not want to see the country become politically united and so powerful that it will again represented a political, military, and economic threat to Tehran. In support of that objective, it seeks a united and democratic Iraq that is federal in nature, limiting the possibility that a strong central government with nationalistic aspirations will develop. A stable Iraq would, in the Iranian view, also lead to a departure of US forces sooner rather than later, a major policy objective as Tehran sees the continued American presence as a direct threat to its survival.91 A secondary agenda is to limit the extent to which Iraq will become a challenge to Iran’s primacy as the center of Shi’ism. Some commentators have described Iran’s choice for Iraq as manageable chaos,92 but that is surely too strong a judgment and it would be more accurate to say that Iran seeks to influence developments in Iraq in a direction that is favorable to its own interests while at the same time working to contain American power.
Iraq also has a clearly defined national interest regarding Iran. It desires a fraternal relationship based on the Shi’ite ties shared by most of the population of the two countries, but it at the same time seeks to maintain its identity and independence from its much larger and more powerful neighbor. The Iraqi identity is largely based on the fact the Iraq is an Arab nation linguistically, ethnically, and culturally while Iran is predominantly Persian. Iraq also has a different vision of the relationship between religion and the state. Iraqi religious leaders are predominantly of the “quietist” school which believes that Shi’ite Islam should have an influence on the country but that clerics should not run it, with a clear separation between religious and political authority.93 Iran believes that religion and state should not be separated and that the religious authorities should also be the ultimate political authorities.
As Iran and Iraq share a 900 mile border and are each other’s most important trading partners,94 Iranian involvement in Iraq is inevitable. The question is to what degree that involvement becomes actual interference manifested as an attempt to control developments inside Iraq. Many Iraqi political leaders have links to Iran, primarily derived from the fact that Iran was the only country willing to shelter Shi’ite dissidents during the rule of Saddam Hussein.95 The country’s senior Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was born in Iran and meets regularly with visiting Iranians while refusing to meet with US diplomats.96 Iran has had good relations with the ruling Kurdish party since the early 1990s, when Saddam Hussein was forced to relinquish his military control over the region.97 Iraqi politicians visit Iran regularly and the Iranian government has established relationships with virtually every political faction in Iraq, including the Sunnis.98
Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim, one time head of SCIRI and its Badr Group militia, actually fought on the Iranian side in the war against Iraq in the 1980s. His son Abdul Aziz al-Hakim lived in Iran until 2003. He now heads both the party and the group, both of which are key supporters of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. SCIRI and Badr are generally regarded as the being very close to Iran. Both SCIRI and the other dominant Shi’ite political party Dawa have received funds from Tehran but have carefully distanced themselves from any overt political connection.99 The Badr Group, which fought against Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, was reportedly trained and armed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and still has connections to it. There is believed to be some lingering resentment by Iraqis of the Shi’ite parties formerly all-too-intimate relationships with Iran.100
Varying degrees of Iranian connections are frequently found within the Iraqi government. Many prominent Iraqi politicians have been linked to Iran, but most temper their attachment by stressing their commitment to Iraqi identity. Ibrahim al-Jaafari, one time prime minister and head of Dawa Party, actually formed the party because of his concern that SCIRI was too close to Iran. He nevertheless spent ten years in Iran during the war between the two countries before moving to London in 1989. Humam Hamoudi chairs the constitutional committee of SCIRI. He lived in Iran from 1981 until 2003. Deputy President and SCIRI member Adil Abd al-Mahdi spent the 1980s in Tehran. Senior SCIRI member and former government minister Bayan Jabr commanded the Badr Group and lived in Iran during the 1980s and 1990s.101
The relationship between Iran and rising politician Moqtada al-Sadr has been somewhat problematical. Al-Sadr, whose father and uncle were both killed by Saddam Hussein, controls nearly 11% of the delegates in the Iraqi Parliament and heads the Mehdi Army. The Mehdi Army has been described by Professor Juan Cole as a movement rather than an organization, though this view is being somewhat revised in the wake of fighting between Mehdi and the government forces at the end of March 2008.102
Among leading politicians, al-Sadr is the de facto focal point for Iraqis who demand an end to the foreign military occupation of their country.103 He also demands a strong central government that is independent of Iran and not ruled by theocrats.104 Over the past year, al-Sadr has been burnishing his religious credentials through instruction in Iran’s spiritual center Qom.105 He lacks religious credentials but aspires to become an Ayatollah at the earliest possible age, forty. He has carefully accepted Iranian assistance and has been receptive to attempts to build bridges to him and to his supporters. He is reported to have a close working relationship with Hezbollah, which may have been the source of inspiration for his militia, and his militiamen have also received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Al-Sadr is nevertheless an Iraqi nationalist who has frequently criticized the SCIRI Party for being too close to Iran and his first trip to Iran was relatively late, in June 2003. Though he has been there a number times since on visits, notably pledging in January 2006 to defend Iran if it is attacked by the US,106 he also is careful to maintain his independence. In February 2007, he suspended two of his commanders who had reportedly received money from Iran. In an attempt to gain control over his Mehdi Army he has also “frozen” the positions of forty others, twenty of whom have been linked to Iran, but there are reports that many of the commanders who are punished are quickly restored to duty. The management changes might be linked to the reports that there are rogue factions within the Mehdi Army that are answering to Iran.107
The overriding question of whether Iraqi politicians are being directed by Iran can be answered unambiguously: they are not.108 Influenced yes, but controlled or directed, no. Even those who spent many years in Iran are careful to burnish their nationalist credentials and all are quick to cite their Arab identity. This is not to suggest however, that no politicians have a close and continuing relationship with the Iranians or that the Iranians lack ability to influence developments. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim certainly does look to Iran for guidance while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki relies heavily on al-Hakim’s support to provide his ability to govern. Some Sunni politicians rally their own constituencies by citing the danger of a grand Shia alliance, but even they know that such a combination is unlikely. Iran is a powerful neighbor that must always be considered and sometimes placated, but sources in Iraq generally agree that Tehran’s ability to control developments in Baghdad is limited.
An excellent case in point demonstrating Iran’s influence with its neighbor is the resolution of the fighting that erupted between Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Militia and the forces of the central government during the last week of March 2008. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, answering to his own Dawa Party and SCIRI, had hoped to eliminate the al-Sadr presence in the key city of Basra prior to local elections later this year but miscalculated and was facing a beating. Members of his own party in parliament, without informing the prime minister, traveled to Qom in Iran on March 28th and arranged a meeting with Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani head of the Qods Force of the Revolutionary Guard to request that Iran mediate a cease fire. Moqtada al-Sadr was in Qom studying for a religious degree and agreed to attend a meeting hosted by Suleimani. Fighting between one Shi’ite faction considered very close to Iran – the government forces – and another faction considered friendly – the Mehdi Army – was not in Iran’s interest. The sources who were present at the meeting report that Iran “brokered” or “mediated” an agreement that resulted in a cease fire. Iran, obviously influential, was able to bring about an outcome favorable to itself, but it also appears clear that it was able to play a “good faith” role bringing together two parties that it considered to be friendly. There is no evidence to suggest that Iran was either trying to impose a solution or that it was controlling the Iraqi political situation.109
Policy Options for the United States and Iran
At the present time, Iran has few incentives to cooperate with the United States over Iraq. The lack of any incentives has been exacerbated by warlike rhetoric out of Washington coupled with the lack of anything equating to an American policy towards the Islamic Republic.110 Or towards the region.111 Ray Takeyh asks “Can the United States transcend its visceral suspicions of Iran and recognize that its long-term nemesis may be a source of stability?”112
It is necessary to start with the assumption that the current Iraq policy is a failure. Even the supporters of the “surge” concede that it can only buy time for a political framework to be constructed,113 something that has not happened and currently appears highly unlikely given the fighting that has erupted between Shi’ite groups as of late March 2008 and which will likely break out again. If Iraq continues to ignore the American prodding seeking to turn it into a model democracy, it is to be assumed that the security provided by the surge of 158,000 troops has been little more than a temporary success, if that.
It must also be conceded that the policy towards Iran has been a failure. There has, in fact, been no US policy to speak of, only allegations about Iranian behavior leading to threats.114 There has been a series of uncoordinated responses to developing situations, culminating in the firing of the Central Command’s Admiral William Fallon on March 3, 2008, apparently for sending the wrong signals about Washington’s willingness to engage Iran militarily. Fallon had also demanded a comprehensive and realistic security strategy for the entire region running from Lebanon in the west to Afghanistan in the east, something that the Bush Administration was unable to consider much less digest.115
US policy towards Iran must first of all concede that Iran is a rational player that is driven by self interest.116 It must deal with four fundamental questions: What does Iran intend to do in Iraq? Does Iran seek to export its Islamic revolution? Will Iran support the insurgency inside Iraq to entangle US forces? Do Iran and the US have common interests in Iraq?117 As has been demonstrated in the previous chapters, Iran appears to have no real prospect of being able to export its religious revolution to Iraq even if it wished to do so. It clearly seeks a stable though politically weakened Iraq that will not threaten it militarily and that will lead to the expeditious departure of US forces. Both Washington and Tehran want the same thing for Iraq, stability and predictability.
US pressure on Tehran has been extremely counter-productive, shifting the dynamics within Iran against the reformers by lining up the country’s religious leadership behind hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This alignment has brought about the election of a new parliament that is more conservative and will likely be more supportive of confrontation in the foreign policy arena.118 Iran meanwhile continues to expand a nuclear program that could ultimately lead to the development of weapons while the US lacks resources to respond effectively. As Iran and Iraq should not be viewed in isolation, a new paradigm for the entire region is essential.
The United States should have several strategic objectives relating to Iran and Iraq, but it must first of all accept that it will achieve nothing without diplomatic engagement with Iran based on no preconditions. This was the essential message of the bipartisan Iraq Studies Group (ISG) and it has been echoed by many other foreign policy experts since the ISG report and its conclusions were rejected by the Bush Administration.119 Currently, the United States does not actually talk to Iran in spite of repeated assertions that it is both willing and prepared to negotiate outstanding issues. An Iranian proposal to settle all outstanding problems that was made through the Swiss Embassy in 2003 was rejected by the White House and the Swiss diplomats were even admonished for raising the issue.120 President Ahmadinejad has also offered to discuss bilateral problems, but his approaches to the Bush Administration have been ridiculed.121
Seeking a diplomatic solution is not to suggest that Iran should be given a carte blanche to behave as it sees fit, but it rather is to suggest that the playing field starts out even and then reciprocal steps can then be taken to build confidence and reduce tensions. There are serious issues that must be resolved, including Iranian nuclear ambitions, the alleged interference in Iraq and Afghanistan, and threats against neighboring Sunni Arab states and Israel. The US, for its part, must satisfy Iranian security concerns and stake out a path that will lead to Iran’s becoming an accepted and unexceptional member of the world community.
The final objective of US-Iran dialogue would be a normalization of relations between the United States and Iran to permit negotiation and compromise on all outstanding areas of disagreement, to include the situation inside Iraq. This would all be part of establishing a new security framework for the Middle East that would reduce tensions, eliminate regional threats, and guarantee an uninterrupted flow of oil and gas. As the United States is now militarily dominant in the region, it should feel empowered to take the first step, possibly by explicitly ending its threatening language and giving security guarantees to Iran if it does not proceed with obtaining technical mastery of the fuel cycle for its nuclear program. As experts believe that control of the fuel cycle would permit easy development of weapons grade isotopes,122 it would be a key concession by Iran and the security guarantee would be a significant and commensurate offer by the United States.
Given the current state of western anxiety about Tehran and its intentions and Iranian concerns about the threat posed by the US, everything would have to be based on reciprocal actions subject to detailed and intrusive bilateral verification. As Ronald Reagan put it, “Trust but verify.”123 Everything should be on the negotiating table, to include Iranian support of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, nuclear weapons programs, and the scale of legitimate Iranian interaction with its neighbors, most notably Iraq and Afghanistan.
As a first step in attempting to shift the regional strategic balance, the US should support elements in Israel who are willing to engage with Syria to normalize relations. Currently, the United States is blocking Israelis who seek a negotiated solution with Syria, which Damascus reportedly is keen to obtain.124 An agreement between Tel Aviv and Damscus underwritten by the United States would end Syrian support for Hezbollah and Hamas and would also perforce end the strategic relationship with Iran. It would, at a stroke, close the overland route between Iran and Lebanon that permits militants to move across country and obtain new supplies of weapons. “Syria is a literal and figurative bridge between Iran and Hezbollah.”125
Without the Syrian and Lebanese nexus, Iran continues to be a major regional power, but its reach and ability to meddle is much reduced. At that point, the outstanding issues can be negotiated and hopefully resolved one by one, recognizing that the United States presence in the Middle East is a given for the foreseeable future and that Iran is a regional power with legitimate national interests. It is most important to realize that the United States and Iran actually share an interest in doing whatever is necessary to help bring about a stable Iraq.126 With normalized relations, American soft power could have a major impact on Iran, which has a young population that is attracted to western culture and liberties.127
While it is unrealistic to assume that Iran and the United States can resolve all of their differences, it is equally unrealistic to assume that sustained and serious negotiation will bear no fruit as the neoconservatives persistently argue in their case against Tehran. Iran is, at the end of the day, like any other nation. It is not suicidal and it is responsive to the same needs and priorities that drive any modern nation state. Recent opinion polls clearly demonstrate that the Iranian people are far from anti-Western, quite the contrary.128 Iran is resentful of its status as a pariah, which has been self-inflicted by leaders like Ahmadinejad, and there is considerable evidence that many in its political leadership would like to make it a more “normal” country.129 It can only do so if the threat from Washington subsides. The United States likewise, cast in the role of the school bully ever since the events of 9/11, is sorely in need of a change of direction and a refurbishing of its image. That change of direction could be signaled by a resolution of the issues dividing Washington from Tehran, a troubled relationship that has been long viewed as one of the most intractable in the world.
1 Richard A. Oppel and Ahmad Fadam, “Ahmadinejad, in Iraq, Chides Bush on Iran Criticism,” The New York Times, March 3, 2008.
2 Davis S. Cloud, “Iraqi Rebels Refine Bomb Skills, Pushing Toll of G.I.’s Higher,” The New York Times, June 22, 2005..
3 Jim Miklaszewski, “Most sophisticated of roadside bombs reportedly coming from Iran,” NBC news, August 4, 2005, see www.msnbc.msn.com.
4 Daniela Deane, “Rumsfeld Says Weapons from Iran found in Iraq,” The Washington Post, August 9, 2005.
5 Gareth Porter, “Despite Charges, No Evidence Iran Sending IEDs to Iraq,” January 17, 2007, posted on antiwar.com.
6 “Blair Warns Iran over Iraq bombs,” BBC News, October 6, 2005.
7 Federal News Service, “Remarks by President George W. Bush after Being Briefed by a Joint Improvised explosive Device Defeat Task Force.”
8 “President Discusses Freedom and Democracy in Iraq,” available on www.whitehouse.gov.
9 Gareth Porter, “Bush’s campaign to pin the Iraq quagmire on Iranian meddling won’t wash,” The American Prospect, February 2, 2007.
10 Ibid. See also Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service, “Iran’s Activities and Influence in Iraq,” January 24, 2008.
11 Gareth Porter, “US Demanding Iran Restrain Shiite Groups,” August 3, 2007, on antiwar.com
12 Michael Gordon, “Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq.”
13 Jonathan Karl and Martin Clancy, “Exclusive: Iranian Weapons Army Iraqi Militia: Hezbollah Training Also Linked to Iraq Violence,” on abcnews.go.com.
14 Lieberman was appearing on CBS’s Sunday morning broadcast “Face the Nation.”
16 Quoted on the first page of the briefing on Iranian Support for Lethal Activity in Iraq, February 11, 2007, see citation 24 below.
17 White House Press release, www.whitehouse.gov.
18 Interview with USA Today, published on January 31, 2007. Odierno was mistaken about the Katyushas, which have not been used by insurgents in Iraq, and about the RPG-29, which is manufactured in Russia, not Iran. According to Russian sources, Iran does not have the weapon though Hezbollah might have acquired several from Syria, see “Russia denies sending anti-tank weapons to Hizbollah-ministry,” Novosti, October 8, 2006.
19 Gareth Porter, “Bush’s Campaign to pin the Iraq quagmire on Iranian meddling won’t wash,” The American Prospect, February 2, 2007.
20 “U.S. Delays Report on Iranian Role in Iraq,” February 1, 2007.
21 “DoD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and General Pace from Pentagon,” February 2, 2007, on www.defenselink,mil.
22 The number assumes that all deaths by EFPs can be blamed on Iran. At the time, most coalition deaths were credited to Sunni insurgents, an unlikely group for Iran to be supporting.
23 Raw Story, “US Claims Iranian bombs have killed 170 Iraqi coalition troops,” February 11, 2007.
24 Ibid. Also the power point briefing, which is available in a pdf file from the Defense Department website. It states that Iran is “a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces,” that a “growing body of evidence” points to “Iranian supply of EFPs to extremist groups,” and that “evidence suggests that Iran is also providing training and other forms of weaponry to extremist groups.” It also asserted that the al-Qods Force, referred to as “enablers of violence,” trains extremists and supports terrorism. See also Babak Dehghanpisheh, “Baghdad Briefing,” appearing in Newsweek on February 12, 2007 and appearing on the website in an updated on October 19, 2007.
25 “U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran.”
26 “U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran.”
27 The briefing is reported in full at www.mnf-iraq.com. It was reported on in The New York Times the next day by Alissa Rubin, “U.S. Suspects that Iran Aids Both Sunni and Shiite Militias.”
28 Sadr Mehdi Brigade former spokesman Qais Khazali and Lebanese Hezbollah official Ali Musa Daqduq.
29 Porter, “US Demanding Iran Restrain Shiite Groups.” Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times reported more alarmingly that the Qods Force had planned the attack, “U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Iraq Attack.” See also Katzman pg. 3. The actual press conference is available on www.mnf-iraq.com.
31 Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Kills More Troops.”
32 “Iran ‘training Iraqi mortar men,’” BBC News, July 26, 2007.
33 Discussed by Philip Giraldi, “Who’s Killing American Soldiers in Iraq?” August 28, 2007, posted on antiwar.com.
34 Available at www.defenselink.mil.pubs/pdfs/Signer-Version -070912.pdf.
35 Gareth Porter, “Debunking the Neocons’ Iran War Measure,” Setpember 27, 2007, posted on www.alternet.org.
36 Available in full at Lieberman.senate.gov. When the Kyl-Lieberman amendment was debated in the Senate, James Webb of Virginia said, “At best, it’s a deliberate attempt to divert attention from a failed diplomatic policy. At worst, it could be read as a backdoor method of gaining congressional validation for military action, without one hearing and without serious debate.” Webb also called the amendment “Dick Cheney’s fondest pipe dream” and noted that the attempt to categorize the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary guard as a “foreign terrorist organization” would mandate military action against Iran: “What do we do with terrorist organizations? … We attack them.”
37 The designation came during a briefing on Iran given by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, see www.state.gove for the entire statement.
38 “U.S. Says it Will Release Nine of 20 Iranians Captured in Iraq.” Wright’s description is somewhat reminiscent of “when did you stop beating your wife?” Wright reports claims by US government officials that the agreement had resulted in a reduction in violent deaths in Iraq, but she fails to recognize that most of the deaths in Iraq at the time were sourced to Shi’ite militias and the largest militia, the Mehdi Army, had just initiated a cease fire. See Richard Beeston, “Al-Sadr declares Mahdi Army Cease Fire,” The Times: London, August 29, 2007.
39 Gareth Porter, “White House Squabble on Releasing Iranians,” The Asia Times, November 29, 2007 and also Golnaz Esfandiari, “Iran: Ahmadinejad Declares Ties with Iraq ‘Excellent’.” Reported by Radio Free Europe, September 12, 2007.
40 Michael B. Gordon and Dexter Filkins, “Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq,” The New York Times, November 28, 2006.
41 Gareth Porter, “Petraeus Sought to Prevent Release of Iranians,” November 27, 2007, posted on antiwar.com.
42 VOA English Service, “Iran-backed Shiites Continue Attacks in Baghdad, Despite Reduced Violence.”
43 Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service, “U.S. General: ‘Jury Still Out’ on Flow of Weapons from Iran.”
44 Reported by the Federal News Service as Defense department Regular Briefing for that date.
45 Michael R. Gordon, “Pentagon Says Services in Iraq Are Stagnant,” The New York Times, December 19, 2007. See also the report itself, available on the Department of Defense website.
46 Reported by White House Press Releases.
47 Reported by the Federal News Service as a Defense Department Briefing.
48 The interview is on www.npr.org, entitled “Gates: No Immediate Military Threat from Iran.”
49 Reported by the Federal News Service.
50 Andrew Gray, “Iran may be biggest threat to Iraq: U.S. General,” Reuters, March 4, 2008.
51 Leila Fadel, “U.S.: Iran reneged on pledge to quit supporting Iraqi militias,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, March 5, 2008.
52 Alfred de Montesquiou, “McCain: Iran’s Influence on the Rise,” Associated Press.
53 The comment was initially reported by McClatchy Newspapers in “Bush erroneously says Iran announced desire for nuclear weapons.” Agence France Presse reported both the comment and White House spin of it in “White House back pedals on Bush comments on Iran bomb,” March 21, 2008.
54 Reported by ABC News on March 25, 2008, “Iran behind Green Zone barrage: Petraeus,”
55 Leila Fadel, “Iranian general played key role in brokering Iraq cease-fire,” McClatchy Newspapers, March 30, 2008.
56 The International Crisis Group put it very well on March 21, 2005, in “Iran in Iraq: How Much Influence?”, “…the evidence of attempted destabilizing Iranian intervention is far less extensive and clear than is alleged; the evidence of successful destabilizing intervention less extensive and clear still.” The notion of interference “…has had the insidious effect of shaping perceptions; if it continues unchallenged, it clearly runs the risk of determining policy…Nor has any concrete evidence been presented to bolster the claim that Iran is either actively promoting the insurgency or seeking to maximize instability.”
57 “Iraq’s neighbors influence…events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.” Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead, January 2007, available at www.odni.gov.
58 Press Briefing, see www.mnf-iraq-com.
59 Liz Sly, “Concerns rise over Iran-backed militias in Iraq,” Chicago Tribune, February 29, 2008. Sly reports that relationship of the splinter groups with “Iran’s government isn’t clear.” She also reports speculation that the Iranian leadership might not know what the relationship really is due the extreme secretiveness and compartmentation within the government.
60 “Iran’s New Iraq: Effect of the United States invasion of Iraq on the Persian Gulf,” Middle East Journal, Winter 2008.
62 As of November 7th, 2007, the US military was reporting the discovery of 5,300 weapons caches in Iraq for 2007 with “much of the material from Iran.” Robin Wright, op. cit.
64 Press Briefing Caldwell and Weber, April 11, 2007, www.mnf-iraq.com. The briefing inadvertently revealed the diversity of weapons available to insurgents. Several rocket propelled grenades captured in a weapons cache had been made in Bulgaria. During the same briefing, a military official “who was not allowed to speak publicly” suggested that “arms dealers are selling to every side in the conflict,” Alissa J. Rubin, “U.S. Suspects That Iran Aids Both Sunni and Shiite Militias,” The New York Times, April 12, 2007.
65 Press Briefing by Major General William Caldwell and Major Marty Weber, April 11, 2007, available on www.mnf-iraq.com.
66 Central Asia entrepreneurs are also noted for their ability to reproduce facsimile weapons of any type on demand. The weapons are frequently difficult to distinguish from the real thing even when examined by an ordnance expert. In the late 1900s the British were astonished to find that their highly sophisticated Martini-Henry rifles were falling into Afghan hands. The subsequently discovered that they were being manufactured in small blacksmith’s shops in the tribal areas using a captured weapon as a model, the small shops being able to produce rifles that were functionally identical to the ones being manufactured in British government armories. More recently, the arms industry located around Peshawar has been producing perfect counterfeits of the Russian assault rifle the Ak-47. Schachtman op. cit. Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center also recognizes the vitality of the black market in weapons in the Near East, see “Pollack: Bush’s Iraq Plan Deserves Chance,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 30, 2007.
67 US Army Special Forces training manuals that provide instructions on making and using shaped charges are available on the internet, see http://www.imsplus.com/ims41b.html.
68 Gareth Porter, “US Military Ignored Evidence of Iraqi-Made EFPs,” October 26, 2007, posted on antiwar.com.
69 Reported by Andrew Cockburn, “In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb,” Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2007. See also Noah Shachtman, “Iraq’s Superbombs: homemade?” February 26, 2007, appearing in blog.wired.com/defense. Shachtman describes the making of the particularly lethal EFPs as an “intermediate technology” which is difficult to develop initially but then is easy to copy by any skilled craftsman.
70 Michael Knights, Jane’s Intelligence Review, January, 2007. Knights also disputed the military’s contention that the use of C-4 with Iranian markings as the explosive charge from a batch matching explosive seized on a Hezbollah ship in 2003 proves an Iranian connection. It suggests instead a Hezbollah connection. Even US Army ordnance expert Major Marty Weber conceded in February 2007 that “you can never be certain,” when asked if the EFPs could be made in Iraq instead of Iran. He also admitted that key components for the EFPs are readily available, see James Glanz and Richard A. Oppel, “U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran,” The New York Times, February 26, 2007. Bomb parts displayed by the US military in February 2007 included tubes that had been made in the United Arab Emirates and in Iraq, see Glanz and Oppel, “U.S. Displays Bomb Parts Said to Be Made in Iran.”
71 Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Tel Aviv, in a report “Anti-Israeli Terrorism 2006: Data, Analysis, and Trends,” March 2007. The Israelis confirm that the weapons, which have been given the name “shawaz” by Hamas, are locally produced, though they suspect they were made using Hezbollah advice and “know-how.”
72 Mohamad Bazzi, “Borrowing Hezbollah’s Tactics,” Newsday, August 12, 2005.
74 Though see Gareth Porter, “Embarrassed US Starts to Disown Basra Operation,” Inter Press Service, April 1, 2008, which claims that “Thousands of Mahdi Army fighters, including top commanders, were sent to Iran for training.” Porter is a reliable source, but he does not provide his sub-source for the allegation.
75 On March 3, 2008, the US command reported the capture of an unnamed Shi’ite splinter “Special Group” commander in the Beida neighborhood of Baghdad. “US Captures Iranian special forces commander near Baghdad,” WorldTribune.com.
76 Kenneth Pollack of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, a hawk on the Iraq war who has since repented, called the rhetoric about Iran “…dangerously reminiscent of how they talked about the Syrians in 2004 and 2005, when they ridiculously exaggerated Syria’s role in the Sunni insurgency…they are starting to do the same thing with Iran and the Shi’ite insurgency.” Council on Foreign Relations, January 30, 2007. Pollack also asserts that “…there’s no good evidence to show the Iranians are instigating any Shiite attacks on the United States.”
77 Elaine Sciolino, “Iran Backs Hezbollah in Lebanon,” International Herald Tribune, July 19, 2006.
78 This was reported by Hadi Semati in the United States Institute for Peace, Robert Grace & Andrew Mandelbaum, “Understanding the Iran-Hezbollah Connection,” September 2006. The article also stated that “While its patronage of Hezbollah has had a coattail effect for the current leadership, Semati agreed with the other panelists that Iran’s role in Hezbollah’s recent operations should not be overstated. Noting Hezbollah’s rapidly growing independence from Iran in recent years, he doubted that Iran was ‘operationally involved’ with planning or execution in the conflict. ‘Iran has influence,’ Semati stated, ‘but they don’t have a veto.’” The other panelists were Vasi Nasr, Kenneth Pollack, and Ray Takeyh.
79 Gordon, “Hezbollah Said to Help Shiite Army in Iraq.”
80 The Mehdi Army is politically tied to the Dawa Party, which is close to Iran, but the other large Shi’ite militia, the Badr Organization, is generally regarded as being much closer to Tehran through its affiliation with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is financially supported by Iran. Al-Sadr is a devoutly religious Shi’ite but he is also regarded as a “nativist” who believes that the Iraqi religious leadership must be native born Iraqi, rejecting any subservience to Iran. Robert Dreyfuss, “Badr vs. Sadr,” September 22, 2005, posted on www.tompaine.com, describes Sadr’s relationship with Iran as “unclear” even though he has frequently visited the country, has sought refuge there, and has vowed to defend it if it is attacked. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Iraq in late February 2008, he met several political leaders, but not al-Sadr.
82 Glanz claims that the weapons have an “Iranian signature” if they have not been found outside of southern Lebanon or Iraq.
83 A Hezbollah operative named Ali Musa Daqduq was detained in March inside Iraq near Basra by US forces, presumably while advising local Shi’ite militants. According to Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, he had made at least four trips to Iraq, where he “was tasked to organize the special groups in ways that mirrored how Hezbollah was organized in Lebanon.” No Iranian was reported to be involved. See Michael Gordon, “U.S. Ties Iran to Deadly Iraq Attack,” The New York Times, July 2, 2007.
84 The Washington Post lead editorial “Tougher on Iran,” August 21, 2007.
85 The five men were arrested in a building that the Iranians called a “consulate” in Irbil. The Iranian office had been operating for several years with the consent of the Kurdish regional government and the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshayr Zebari immediately demanded that the men be released as they were in Iraq legitimately helping with visas and other paperwork for traveling Iraqis. Several of the employees were Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers as the Guard is responsible for border security. Intensive interrogation of the five did not produce any intelligence and two men were quietly released in November 2007. The other three are still in detention. There are also media reports that at least fifteen other Iranians have been detained, seven of whom have been released. None of the Iranians in custody has been charged by either the US or Iraqi authorities. See Wright op. cit.
86 Gareth Porter, “Sadr Offensive Show Failure of Petraeus Strategy,” Inter Press Service News Agency, March 29, 2008.
87 Anoushiravan Ehteshami, “Iran-Iraq Relations after Saddam,” The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington Quarterly, Autumn 2003, dismisses the “persistent notion that the two countries are somehow destined for rivalry” since their historic conflict derived from Ottoman-Sassanian competition over Mesopotamia, political entities that no longer exist.
88 Mounir Elkhamri, “Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in Iraq,” The Jamestown Foundation, January 2007. Elkhamri states that there is a “strong history of Iranian-sponsored unrest in Iraq” and that Tehran is seeking to “assume total control” over Iraq but fails to provide evidence for either assertion. He claims that “Vast areas of Iraq are under the virtual control of the Qods Force…” a claim that no other source has made, and that one third of two thousand Iranian religious scholars in Iraq are actually intelligence officers. His source is “Terrorists Training Camp in Iran,” in Iran Focus, February 27, 2006, an article that could not otherwise identified. Elkhamri is an analyst at the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth Kansas. He speaks Arabic but not Farsi. That said, however, Iran’s closest ally in Iraq is al-Hakim and his comments might not be objective. Many Sunni politicians would disagree with him about Iranian interference.
89 Golnaz Esfandiari, “Iran: Ahmadinejad Declares Ties with Iraq ‘Excellent’,” Reported by Radio Free Europe on September 12, 2006.
90 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit, in which he was greeted with a lavish public ceremonial was favorably viewed in comparison to visits by US politicians who remain in the heavily protected Green Zone, only venturing out by helicopter. Ahmadinejad moved around by car. It was also noted by the Iraqi media that none of Iraq’s Arab neighbors had yet sent a head to state to Baghdad and that many Arab countries do not even have an embassy in Baghdad. Allen Pizzey, “Iran Winning Iraqi Hearts and Minds,” CBS News, March 4, 2008.
91 See especially Takeyh “Iran’s New Iraq.”
92 International Crisis Group op. cit.
93 This is the view of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and of the dominant Dawa political party. Geoffrey Kemp, “Iran and Iraq: The Shia Connection, Soft Power, and the Nuclear Factor,” United States Institute of Peace, November 2005.
94 The trade exceeds $8 billion per year and is expected to grow rapidly. Iran will be supplying electricity to Basra. “Iran Winning Iraqi Hearts And Minds.”
95 Edward Wong, “Iran is in Strong Position to Steer Iraq’s Political Future,” The New York Times, July 3, 2004.
96 Sistani has refused to issue a fatwa or religious ruling condemning the production of nuclear weapons because he does not wish to bring on a confrontation with Iran if Tehran goes ahead with its weapons program. Babak Rahimi, “The Sadri-Sistani Relationship,” The Jamestown Foundation, March 29, 2007.
97 Iraqi President and Kurd Jalal Talabani has a relationship with Iran going back twenty-two years. Iran has carefully cultivated its ties with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is the dominant party in the Kurdish region. M. Javedanfar, “Iran’s 22 years relationship with Iraq’s Interim President,” www.meepas.com, dated December 4, 2005.
98 Kemp op. cit.
99 It was reported in 2004 that “The United States Army has observed ‘a large amount of US currently being passed by Iran’ to SCIRI,” Wong op. cit.
100 Half a million Iraqis died during the war against Iran in the 1980s. Wong and Kemp.
102 See especially Porter, “Embarrassed US Starts to Disown Basra Operation,” who argues that the Mehdi turned out to be much better organized and controlled than had been expected. See also Charles Crain, “How Moqtada al-Sadr Won In Basra,” Time Magazine, April 1, 2008.
103 “Analysts Discuss the Influence of Muqtada al-Sadr,” National Public Radio, March 27, 2006. Media reports prior to March 2008 that the US military had achieved dialogue and a modus vivendi with Mehdi were much overstated. In fact, there was only intermittent contact and only with low level functionaries.
104 See New York Times blog posting “Mullah Time,” April 1, 2008, posting by “Blue Sun.”
105 Amir Taheri, “The ‘Manchurian Mullah’,” The New York Post, February 1, 2008. He has reportedly grown much closer to Iran of late, see Robert Dreyfuss, “The Lessons of Basra,” The Nation, March 31, 2008.
106 Babak Rahimi, “Moqtada al-Sadr’s New Alliance with Tehran,” The Jamestown Foundation, March 1, 2007. But see also Ellen Knickmeyere and Omar Fekeiki, “Iraqi Shiite Cleric Pledge to Defend Iran, The Washington Post, January 24, 2006, which says that al-Sadr pledged to come to the aid of “any Islamic State.”
107 Damien Cave, “Iraq Rebel Cleric Reins In Militia; Motives at Issue,” The New York Times, February 25, 2007.
108 In the current fighting between Badr and Mehdi Army, Anthony Cordesman sees Iran as supporting all sides “ensuring that it would support the winner,” Frank James, “Expert: Current Iraq fighting not good guys vs. bad,” Baltimore Sun, March 26, 2008 and also Cordesman. “A Civil War Iraq Can’t Win, The New York Times, March 30, 2008.. Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress in “Resurging Iraqi Violence: Shi’a Civil War Only One of Many,” sees Badr as Iran’s “closest allies inside Iraq” but that the overriding issue is an “intra-Shia civil war” that is a struggle for power. See also above footnotes 56, 57, and 75 for comments on the essentially Iraqi nature of Iraqi politics from the International Crisis Group, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, and from Kenneth Pollack. See also Takeyh, who notes that Iraq’s political parties “must place some distance between themselves and Tehran.”
109 See especially Fadel “Iranian general played key role in brokering Iraq cease-fire,” and Warren Strobel and Leila Fadel, “Iranian who brokered Iraqi peace is on US terrorist watch list,” McClatchy Newspapers, March 31, 2008.
110 Kemp op. cit.
111 Katulis, who describes the Bush Administration approach to the Middle East as “strategic confusion.”
112 Ray Takejh, “Iran’s New Iraq: Effect of the United States’ invasion of Iraq on the Persian Gulf,” Middle East Journal, Winter 2008.
113 Keith W. Mines, “After the Surge: the Only Iraq worth fighting for,” Americandiplomacy.org, January 8, 2008.
114 Porter, “Embarrassed U.S.”
115 Philip Giraldi, “Fallon Walks the Plank,” March 17, 2008, Huffington Post. The last four commanders of Central command, who would actually have to fight a war initiated by the White House, have all gone on record as supporting direct negotiations with Iran without preconditions.
116 As Ray Takeyh puts it “Iran’s policy towards Iraq…is predicated on careful, calibrated calculations of national interest…” Kayhan Barzegar “Understanding the Roots of Iranian Foreign Policy in the New Iraq,” Middle East Policy, Summer 2005, writes “Although Iran has maintained a moderate foreign-policy stance in order to bring balance to the domestic scene in Iraq, groups within the Islamic Republic aspire to keep close association with Iraqi Shiites in order to counter the uncompromising US approach toward Iran.”
117 Takeyh, who notes that Iran’s arming of Shi’ite militias, if it is taking place, must be seen in the context of it being a form of deterrence. Its “tense relations with the United States” require it to signal that it can and will retaliate through surrogates if it is attacked.
118 Alireza Jafarzadeh, “The Mission of Iran’s New Majlis,” Foxnews.com, March 27, 2008.
119 David E. Sanger, “Iraq Studies Group Draft backs diplomacy with Iran and Syria,” International Herald Tribune, November 22, 2006.
120 Flynt L. Leverett, “Iran: the Gulf Between Us,” The New York Times, January 24, 2006.
121 Ahmadinejad sent an eighteen page letter to Bush. Bush apparently did not read it. Karl Vick, “No proposals in Iranian’s letter to Bush, U.S. says,” The Washington Post, May 9, 2006.
122 Nazila Fathi, “Iran says it is making nuclear fuel, defying U.N.,” The New York Times, April 12, 2006.
123 See reaganfoundation.org/reagan/speeches/farewell.
124 “Restarting Israeli-Syrian Negotiations,” International Crisis Group, April 10, 2007.
125 Robert Grace op. cit. quoting Kenneth Pollack.
126 Takeyh, op. cit. notes that “Washington seems to have fallen into a trap of seeing the specter of Iran behind its failings in Iraq” adding that “A more proper diplomatic strategy…would…seek ways to harmonize US-Iranian policies…it is incongruous to suggest that the United States has sufficient interests in Iraq to the point of mandating its invasion and occupation, and yet the country next door should not have any role in its neighbor’s affairs.”
127 “Poll of the Iranian Public,” January 16, 2007, Program on International Policy Attitudes, University of Maryland. See also the poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow, “Polling Iranian Public Opinion: an Unprecedented Nationwide Survey of Iran,” conducted in June 2007.
129 Shahram Chubin, “Dealing with Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions, post-Lebanon,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 17, 2006.