Iraq: is Iran the real winner?

All sides continue to exhibit the utmost cynicism in the increasingly confused Iraq war. The anti-terrorist SITE Institute notes that the self-declared al-Qaeda in Iraq has issued a communique on the Nov. 28 assassination of Sheikh Ayad al-Izzi, a prominent Sunni parliamentary candidate with the Iraqi Islamic Party. According to SITE:

Commenting on who killed al-Izzi, the message implicates the US, saying: “The Americans have an interest to kill Ayad al-Azzi and those like him so as to instigate civil wars between the followers of the Sunna and their protégés.”?

The communiqué also criticizes democracy and claims it “is a call of infidelity by which many protégés of the followers of the Sunna were infatuated; among them the heads of this lost party”?

It is pretty hilariously ironic that al-Qaeda should be accusing others of attempting to foment civil war in Iraq—even if there is merit to the accusation.

Then there was the mob attack on former prime minister (and current US-favored parliamentary candidate) Iyad Allawi Dec. 5 at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf. Apparently hit in the head with a rock, and (he claimed) menaced with a pistol, Allawi insisted his attackers were foreign agents (by strong implication, Iranians). “I will cut my hands off if these people have anything to do with Najaf…or Iraq for that matter,” he said. (Reuters) Is he really in that much denial about the degree to which Iraqi Shi’ites outside his westernized and technocratic cricles consider him a pawn of US imperialism?

But the thinly-veiled Iran card is an obvious one. Retired Gen. Wesley Clark (ex-presidential candidate and NATO commander during the 1999 Yugoslavia campaign) writes in a New York Times op-ed Dec. 6:

While the Bush administration and its critics escalated the debate last week over how long our troops should stay in Iraq, I was able to see the issue through the eyes of America’s friends in the Persian Gulf region. The Arab states agree on one thing: Iran is emerging as the big winner of the American invasion, and both President Bush’s new strategy and the Democratic responses to it dangerously miss the point. It’s a devastating critique. And, unfortunately, it is correct.

While American troops have been fighting, and dying, against the Sunni rebels and foreign jihadists, the Shiite clerics in Iraq have achieved fundamental political goals: capturing oil revenues, strengthening the role of Islam in the state, and building up formidable militias that will defend their gains and advance their causes as the Americans draw down and leave. Iraq’s neighbors, then, see it evolving into a Shiite-dominated, Iranian buffer state that will strengthen Tehran’s power in the Persian Gulf just as it is seeks nuclear weapons and intensifies its rhetoric against Israel.

Clark calls, unfortunately, for “staying the course”—but with modifications, including a crackdown on Shi’ite militias in the south and a reform of the federalist constitution to restore power to the Sunni center.

Iraqis must change the Constitution as quickly as possible after next week’s parliamentary elections. Most important, oil revenues should be declared the property of the central government, not the provinces. And the federal concept must be modified to preclude the creation of a Shiite autonomous region in the south.

Also, a broad initiative to reduce sectarian influence within government institutions is long overdue. The elections, in which Sunnis will participate, will help; but the government must do more to ensure that all ethnic and religious groups are represented within ministries, police forces, the army, the judiciary and other overarching federal institutions.


What a disaster it would be if the real winner in Iraq turned out to be Iran, a country that supports terrorism and opposes most of what we stand for. Surely, we can summon the wisdom, resources and bipartisan leadership to change the American course before it is too late.

As we have argued before, the question of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq will have to be dealt with by US imperialism one way or another. Traditionally, the Anglo-American strategy in Iraq has been to support a centralist Sunni-dominated regime in Baghdad, tactically tilting to the Shi’ites and Kurds at times when the regime has turned unreliable and needs to be destabilized. The longest such period has been since Desert Storm, of course. At the moment the US is betting on the secular, technocratic Shi’ite Allawi. It seems like a highly uncertain bet, on a figure with little popular credibility. When the US needs to tilt back to the Sunnis to humble Iranian ambitions, it may find a complete vaccuum of potential Sunni proxies or even tactical allies. And hence, the threatening deluge…

See our last post on Iraq.