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Iran's Plan for Iraq By: Walid Phares
World Defense Review | Monday, September 10, 2007


[Part one of a series on "Freedom Lines," adapted from seminars conducted for the U.S. House of Representatives' Caucus on Counter Terrorism, summer 2007]

In March 2003, the United States made a strategic decision to send troops into Iraq and defeat the Saddam Hussein regime militarily. This decision is still being debated nationwide and internationally as to its legitimacy and rationality.

One camp claims Washington didn't have a right to change the regime and engage in an armed confrontation with Iraqis. Another camp says Saddam was a threat, the region is now better off without him, and Iraqis have been liberated from a bloody dictatorship.

map 1 Above, general Directions of the Iranian Syrian Plan for Post Withdrawal Iraq.

map 2 Above, advances by
1. Iran: Center, South and Saudi and Jordanian borders; pressure on the Kurds in the North
2. Syria: Anbar, limits of Sunni Triangle, pressure on Kurds
3. Turkey: Tentative: Pressure on the Kurds

map 3 Above, final advances
1. Iran: Central, South, West
2. Syria: Anbar, borders enclaves
3. Al Qaeda and Jihadists: in the Center


In reality, only historians will determine if it was the right decision at the right time for one simple reason: While U.S. military operations aimed at dismantling the regime's military power ended in April 2003 – very successfully as a matter of fact – the second much longer road for the following set of U.S. goals is now under scrutiny.

Should American and Coalition forces withdraw immediately, begin pulling out, or staying the course, is the center of the ongoing debate. But to answer, one has to understand the goals of the adversaries in this ongoing conflict. Al Qaeda has a plan for Iraq, and U.S. forces are fighting it along with Iraqi units. But the direct geopolitical threat that is linked to the role of U.S. troops in that country is the Iranian regime and its allies in the region and inside Iraq. How does Tehran see the American presence, what are its plans for Iraq, and what will happen if U.S. forces are withdrawn abruptly?

Prior to 2001, the Iranian regime had developed regional ambitions, including a military alliance with Syria, continuous support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and a slow-pace development of a nuclear weapon. In the 1980s, its proxies delivered blows to the U.S. in Beirut and by May 2000, its allies in Lebanon had reached international borders with Israel.

During the decade following the first Gulf War, the Pasdaran were training and arming Iraqi militias for future mission in Iraq. The Khomeinists and Hafez Assad had an Iraq plan years before the U.S. invaded in 2003: overrun the Shia areas in the center and the south and open a land bridge between Iran and Syria.[1] But 9/11 shook off the foundations of the Iranian plan. By December of that year, U.S. and Coalition forces removed the Taliban and opened the path for a democratic government in Afghanistan.

The regime change in Kabul was a first problem for the Mullahs in Tehran: democracy defeating a Jihadi regime wasn't a good example to watch. By April 2003, a second catastrophe hit the Islamic Republic: Saddam was removed, but worse, democratic elections were succeeding each other in Iraq. But more dramatic was the fact that U.S and NATO forces were deployed to the East and to the West of Iran.

In strategic reading, the Khomeinist project was geographically contained: no more bridge to Syria and a greater menace was hovering over the nuclear program. Even more catastrophic was the proximity of two democratic experiments to the Iranian society. Students, women and workers have been challenging the theocratic regime since the late 1990s.

To Khamanei's ruling elite, successes across the borders meant a condemnation to the regime inside Iran. Thus the Pasdaran were tasked with a plan to destabilize Afghanistan and crumble the political process in Iraq. Since the summer of 2003 and for the following four years, Iranian backed Terrorism against civilians, Syrian passage for the Jihadists and pressures against U.S. and Coalition forces aimed at provoking a quicker and chaotic pull out.

If Washington withdraws catastrophically from Iraq what would the Iranian regime do? In about six to nine months, this is what would happen:

  1. The pro-Iranian militias (SCIRI, Badr Brigade, Muqtada al Sadr, act.) would seize the control of two thirds of Iraq between Baghdad and Basra. The militias would create "security enclaves," perform several terror acts and assassinations leading to a crumbling of the central Government, and a pro-Khomeinist regime established.
  2. Most moderate Shiite politicians and liberal elements in those areas would be eliminated, as did Khomeini with his partners in the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Within less than a year, most Shia partners of the Pro-Iranian forces would be eliminated.
  3. And as it was practiced in Lebanon in 1990, the pro-Iranian future regime of Iraq will call in Iranian "brotherly" forces to assist in security and in the defense of the borders. The Pasdaran and the Iranian army will deploy in the southern Oil fields, along the borders with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan and would connect with the Syrian forces across the borders. The latter will be asked to help in the Anbar province.
  4. The Sunni areas will be left to be dealt with later, along with Syrian interventions.
  5. The Kurdish areas will be submitted to isolation, pressure and internal divisions, in a concerted effort with Syria and the Islamic Government of Turkey.

This is not a theoretical scenario. This is the projected reality if U.S. forces would prematurely and abruptly withdraw from Iraq before achieving one major strategic objective in Iraq and the region: Helping the independently minded Iraqis to reform and solidify their Government, erect their Army to a regional level and along with U.S. forces establish a containment system for Iranian expansionist ambitions. Any lesser goal achieved in Iraq is a direct invitation to the Iranian regime to become the greatest threat in the 21st century against Peace and Security, in the region and worldwide.

[1] See Phares, Walid "The Syrian-Iranian Axis" Global Affairs. Spring 1992.


Professor Walid Phares is the author of Future Jihad. He is a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels and a Senior Fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington.


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