In late November, approximately ten days before the anticipated presentation of the Baker-Hamilton Committee’s “Iraq Study Group Report”, the private sector intelligence agency “Stratfor” (Strategic Forecasting, Inc.) presented a special report on Iraq of its own entitled “U.S. Options in Iraq, November 2006”. Taken as a whole, the sixty page report is, as usual, first class. Included with the report were several essays written by Stratfor’s president and founder, Dr. George Friedman, suggesting policy ideas for Iraq. Although Dr. Friedman is privy to far more details of intelligence than myself, there are several points in his essays and report that are deserving of comment, and I believe, contradiction or refinement. As several of the essays go back several years, I have the advantage of what might be termed “20-20 hindsight” but as these essays were reissued just this last month, I consider it fair to comment upon them.
In an insightful essay with the title “Iraq: New Strategies” (“U.S. Options…”, pp 42-46), originally published on May 17, 2004, Friedman suggested that the nature of the government in Iraq was of little consequence as long as it did not provide aid and support to al-Qaeda. He appeared to suggest that as long as al-Qaeda does not benefit, what occurs internally in Iraq should not really concern us as Americans. Disagreeing with the neo-conservative ideologues that hoped to build a western-style democracy in Iraq, Friedman intimated that internal Iraqi affairs should not be our concern.
Two-and-a-half years later, I find myself much less concerned about al-Qaeda in Iraq (especially after the early June death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi ) than in the possibility that the radical fundamentalist Shiite domination of the Iraqi government will permit Iran to dominate the southern portion of that unfortunate country. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is a member of the Dawa Party that is allied to the popular radical militant Shiite fundamentalist Moqtada al-Sadr, who is known to have very close ties to Iran. His Shiite “rival” Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, as leader of SCIRI (the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) which was formed in Iran in 1982 and who serves as nominal head of the Badr Organization which was developed and trained by the Iranian IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps/ Pasdaran) unquestionably is tied to the Tehran regime despite any protestations that he may have the chutzpah to make. President Bush’s meeting with al-Hakim on the same day that the Baker-Hamilton report was unveiled was an ironic twist of fate at best. I fear that Bush believes that al-Hakim will help to defuse al-Sadr. Interestingly, a State Department Office of Research survey, presented in Anthony Cordesman’s November 30, 2006 CSIS report “Iraqi Force Development and the Challenge of Civil War: The Critical Problems and Failures the US Must Address if Iraqi Forces Are to Eventually Do the Job” (p.11) shows that al-Hakim’s Badr Organization consistently rates lower confidence in its ability to improve the situation in Iraq, even in areas that are Shiite strongholds. It would appear that the Iraqis don’t really trust al-Hakim; why is President Bush counting on him to help the coalition forces against al-Sadr? Is al-Sadr the real problem, or is Iranian interference in Iraq’s internal affairs the catalyst for inter-sectarian strife?
Knowing how the Tehran regime works, I would not put it past the Iranian regime to float this “rivalry” as a way of misleading the U.S. into thinking that al-Hakim can be trusted to help defuse the Shiite-Sunni bloodshed. For that matter, Tehran is fully capable of using al-Qaeda as a tool to distract the U.S. from its drive to dominate the Persian Gulf. The Syrians first pulled off this type of charade in the 1982 and landed themselves a quarter century domination/ occupation of Lebanon as “peacekeepers”. Iran appears to be trying to do the same thing in southern Iraq. We should not forget that Iran’s IRGC took over Lebanon by developing Hezbollah in 1982, wresting away from AMAL the loyalty of the bulk of Lebanon’s Shiite population. Iran has demonstrated an ability to disregard crucial doctrinal differences and conflicts when it is to its advantage geo-strategically. As Iran’s drive to dominate the Persian Gulf region is of primary concern to the Tehran regime, using its Sunni rival al-Qaeda is a way of both having and eating its cake at the same time. By arming and supplying al-Qaeda jihadist operatives in Iraq at the same time as it supports the SCIRI’s Badr and Wolf Brigades and the Jaish al-Mahdi of Moqtada al-Sadr, Tehran is able to stir the Iraqi pot in two directions, keeping the American led MNF-I off guard at every turn. Anthony Cordesman’s November 30, 2006 CSIS report “Iraqi Force Development…” presents a confirmation of this idea with the quote “A senior coalition intelligence official said that Iran funded many different groups to ensure continued influence no matter which one came out on top.”(p.16)
Hard evidence is now finally in, following the arrest last month (late December) of two Iranian “diplomats” in al-Hakim’s Baghdad compound (one of whom was General Chizari, said to be third in command of the Qods Force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ external strike force which is used to plan and carry out attacks on Iran’s enemies) eliciting a major complaint from Iraq’s Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani--long known as a friend of Tehran—as well as last week’s arrest of five officers of Iran’s Qods Force (Pasdaran-Qods) in the Arbil branch of the Iranian Consulate. Captured documents now prove that Iran has been bankrolling the Sunni al-Qaeda as well as the various Shiite militias in Iraq, and that Iran has been supplying the IEDs that are killing MNF-I troops in ever increasing numbers.
President Bush must now decide whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is capable and willing to take three crucial steps to foster Iraqi independence and American confidence: (1) Can al-Maliki reign in and control/disarm the Shiite militias? (2) Can he demonstrate enough Iraqi nationalism to break-off his reliance on, and ties to, the Tehran regime? And (3) Having taken the first two steps, can he convince the Sunnis and Kurds that he is prepared to build a united Iraqi society that gives each group a fair share of the pie? If al-Maliki cannot accomplish these three goals, he is not the right man for the job, and no additional troop surge will end the internecine strife. If al-Maliki cannot demonstrate significant progress in these three areas within the next, say, one hundred days, Bush must begin to look for someone who can fit the job, because unless these problems are addressed quickly, Iraqi society will continue to unravel to an extent that will make any type of union impossible.
Anthony Cordesman’s reports for CSIS over the last year indicate that the Department of Defense under Secretary Rumsfeld’s direction was less than honest in its assessment of Iraqi army and police force development. Too often a political “spin” was offered that obscured the truth from the American people and its elected leadership. That dishonest practice cost us dearly in Vietnam and if continued will defeat us in Iraq. It must stop immediately. America is a great nation and Americans are capable of great sacrifice. But crucial to rallying American patriotism is an honest voice in Washington. Mr. Bush must brook no dishonesty from his advisors, the military, or our allies. Winston Churchill rallied the British on May 13, 1940, at the height of the “Blitz” with his now famous line: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.” Mr. Bush needs to address the American people and the Free World in a similar fashion.
President Bush’s decision to stop Iran’s interference in Iraq with armed intervention as demonstrated in the last several weeks is the first step in the right direction. Until Tehran’s influence in Iraq is neutralized our efforts to rebuild Iraq will not succeed. It is to be hoped that the administration is now beginning to understand the significance of Iran’s interference in Iraq and will not only actively oppose the IRI regime’s deadly mischief, but will also make use of all those who have experience opposing that corrupt regime these last 28 years in order to neutralize the mullahs permanently.
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