The two horns of prophecy (Dan 8:3)

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Iran’s Nukes are Iraq’s Moment of Truth
06.28.15 – 5:00 PM | Michael Rubin

Iranian influence in Iraq has grown greatly since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Shortly after I returned to Iraq in July 2003, I had driven with Iraqi friends down to see the marshes which Saddam Hussein had ordered drained in order to try to extinguish the Marsh Arabs’ thousands-year way of life. On our way back, we stopped at a roadside fruit and drink stand on the outskirts of Kut. Peeking out from behind a bunch of bananas was a portrait of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s revolutionary leader. A month later, I stopped unannounced at a tribal leader’s house in al-Amara. When I had scheduled a visit with him through local Coalition Provisional Authority officials a week before, he was obsequious to the Americans; when I came back unannounced, there in his reception room where he had served us tea a week before was a huge portrait of Khomeini. Then, of course, there was the time in Baghdad when I was visiting an Iraqi politician. It was getting late and so I took his offer to sleep on a couch in his living room rather than traverse Baghdad after curfew. On the other couch when I woke up? An Iranian official, who had even more reason to avoid getting caught by the American army breaking curfew. And then, there was the time when I was exploring Basra in December 2003. I stayed at a local hotel, and was wandering along the trash-strewn local canals which decades before had made Basra the “Venice of the Gulf.” Sharing the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) office was Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s chief terrorist proxy.
The irony here is that, for all the attempts Iran made to infiltrate Iraq — successfully in some cases — most Iraqi Shi’ites resented them or soon came to due to the Iranian leadership’s arrogance and its deaf ear to Iraqi nationalism. The bulk of the Iraqi Army at the front lines during the Iran-Iraq War were Shi‘ite conscripts who fought honorably to defend Iraq; they neither defected to Iran out of sectarian loyalty nor were they in position to question the justice of a war which Saddam Hussein started. On January 6, Iraqi Shi‘ites alongside Iraqi Kurds and Iraqi Sunnis commemorate Iraqi Army Day, celebrating the institution, not the previous regime that often abused it. Within hours after the war began, Iran violated an agreement struck between its UN ambassador (now Foreign Minister and chief negotiator) Mohammad Javad Zarif and American diplomats Ryan Crocker and Zalmay Khalilzad and inserted a number of proxies and its own men into Iraq. One of their missions was to seize personnel records in the Defense Ministry and then proceed to hunt down and kill any veteran pilot from the Iraq-Iran War on the assumption that they had bombed Iran. The Iranian Red Crescent participated in this assassination wave, providing yet one more reason why the Iranian government and its NGOs should not be taken at their word.

Ever since President Barack Obama ordered a complete withdrawal from Iraq in order to fulfill a 2007 campaign pledge, Iranian influence has grown in Iraq. The reason for this has less to do with the hearts of Iraqis than their minds: Because they could no longer balance American and Iranian influence and demands in order to preserve their independent space, they needed to make greater accommodation to Tehran. It’s one thing to push back on over-the-top Iranian demands when several thousand American troops are garrisoned around the country. It is quite another to tell Qods Force leader Qassem Soleimani to shove his demands where the sun don’t shine when he has the wherewithal to kill anyone who stands in his way and every Iraqi regardless of sect or ethnicity knows that the United States really does not have their back. Hence, Iraq allowed some Iranian overflights to support and supply Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime in Syria (the same regime to which Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry now appear prepared to accommodate). And Iraqis also traveled to Syria to support the Assad regime against Jabhat al-Nusra and/or the Islamic State (again, which the United States now appears to be doing, having demanded that ‘moderate’ Syrians whom U.S. forces train not target Assad). More recently, Americans have criticized the role that Iranian-backed militias play in the Iraqi security forces. This concern is certainly warranted, although every time a politician, journalist, or think-tank analyst recommends arming Sunni tribes directly, they simply drive the Iraqi public away from moderates like Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has been solicitous of American interests and concerns, and into the hands of harder-line pro-Iranian politicians.

So what can Iraq do to signal that it is not simply an Iranian proxy like so many of its critics say? Taking a public stance against the Iranian nuclear program would be a good first step. Under no circumstances, can the Iranian nuclear program be an Iraqi interest. Forget the Washington talking points: Everyone in the Persian Gulf, Arabs and Persians alike, know that the deal currently being finalized secures a path to an Iranian nuclear breakout. They also have a far more realistic assessment of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) than the Obama administration. Not only is it unlikely that the IRGC will abide by any agreement, but it is also likely that if Iran does acquire a nuclear capability, it will find itself so overconfident behind its own nuclear deterrence that it will further erode Iraqi sovereignty.

Iran may not like Iraq siding, in this instance, with almost every member of the Gulf Cooperation Council but Oman (which feigns neutrality), but certainly it must expect that any Iraqi government — even one which reflects the Shi‘ite majority of Iraq — will stand up for Iraqi national interests and oppose Iran’s nuclear ambitions with the same cautionary statements heard from Saudi, Emirati, and Kuwaiti diplomats and officials.

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