Friday, November 10, 2006

One Quagmire At A Time

One sign the 'pragmatists' are in charge now - it seems we won't be stumbling into another intractable bloodbath right next door to the one we're mired in now. Robert Gates is said - like these appeasers, terrorist-lovers, and dangerous fringe radicals - to favor talks with Tehran. The administration's Iraq debacle has done a great deal to radicalize Iran and strengthen its influence in the region, and the sane thing would be to leverage that influence. Will sanity prevail? Not if the usual suspects have their say.


Blogger Management said...

The Iraq war is over, and the winner is... Iran
Hamstrung by the Iraq debacle, all Bush can do is gnash his teeth as the
hated mullahs in Iran cozy up to their co-religionists in Iraq.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Juan Cole

July 21, 2005 | Iraq's new government has been trumpeted by the Bush
administration as a close friend and a model for democracy in the region.
In contrast, Bush calls Iran part of an axis of evil and dismisses its
elections and government as illegitimate. So the Bush administration cannot
have been filled with joy when Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and
eight high-powered cabinet ministers paid an extremely friendly visit to
Tehran this week.

The two governments went into a tizzy of wheeling and dealing of a sort not
seen since Texas oil millionaires found out about Saudi Arabia. Oil
pipelines, port access, pilgrimage, trade, security, military assistance,
were all on the table in Tehran. All the sorts of contracts and deals that
U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney had imagined for Halliburton, and that the
Pentagon neoconservatives had hoped for Israel, were heading instead due east.

Jaafari's visit was a blow to the Bush administration's strategic vision,
but a sweet triumph for political Shiism. In the dark days of 1982, Tehran
was swarming with Iraqi Shiite expatriates who had been forced to flee
Saddam Hussein's death decree against them. They had been forced abroad, to
a country with which Iraq was then at war. Ayatollah Khomeini, the newly
installed theocrat of Iran, pressured the expatriates to form an umbrella
organization, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),
which he hoped would eventually take over Iraq. Among its members were
Jaafari and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. On Jan. 30, 2005, Khomeini's dream finally
came true, courtesy of the Bush administration, when the Supreme Council
and the Dawa Party won the Iraqi elections.

Jaafari, a Dawa Party activist working for an Islamic republic, had been in
exile in Tehran from 1980 to 1989. A physician trained at Mosul, the
reserved and somewhat inarticulate Jaafari studied Shiite law and theology
as an auditor at the seminaries of Qom. His party, Dawa, was briefly part
of SCIRI but in 1984 split with it to maintain its autonomy.

Iraq has a Shiite Muslim majority of some 62 percent. Iran's Shiite
majority is thought to be closer to 90 percent. The Shiites of the two
countries have had a special relationship for over a millennium. Saddam had
sealed the border for more than two decades, but throughout centuries, tens
of thousands of Iranians have come on pilgrimage to the holy Shiite shrines
of Najaf and Karbala every year. Iraqis likewise go to Iran for pilgrimage,
study and trade. Although neoconservatives like Paul Wolfowitz maintained
before the Iraq war that Iraqis are more secular and less interested in an
Islamic state than Iranians, in fact the ideas of Khomeini had had a deep
impact among Iraqi Shiites. When they could vote in January earlier this
year, they put the Khomeini-influenced Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq in control of seven of the nine southern provinces,
along with Baghdad itself.

It was not only history that brought Jaafari to the foothills of the Alborz
mountains. The Iraqi prime minister was attempting to break out of the box
into which his government has been stuffed by the Sunni Arab guerrilla
movement. Jaafari's government does not control the center-north or west of
the country and cannot pump much petroleum from Kirkuk because of oil
sabotage. Trucking to Jordan is often difficult. The Jaafari government
depends heavily on the Rumaila oil field in the south, but lacks refining
capability. Iraq lacks a deep water port on the Gulf and needs to replace
inland "ports" like Amman because of poor security. An initiative toward
the east could resolve many of these problems, strengthening the Shiites
against the Sunni guerrillas economically and militarily and so saving the
new government.

The last time Iran and Iraq had really warm relations was the mid-1950s.
Iraq then had a British-installed constitutional monarchy, and Prime
Minister Nuri as-Said was fanatically pro-Western. The CIA had put Mohammad
Reza Shah back on the throne in 1953, deposing the democratically elected
prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh (who had angered the United States when
he nationalized the Iranian oil industry). In 1955 Said and the shah both
signed on to the Baghdad Pact, a U.S.-sponsored security agreement against
the Soviet Union and Arab nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. The pact
proved ill-fated, however. A popular revolution overthrew the Iraqi
monarchy in 1958, and Nuri's corpse was dragged in the street. Another
popular revolution overthrew the shah in 1979. In 1980-1988, Iran-Iraq
relations reached their nadir, as Saddam Hussein's Baath Party and
Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards slugged it out on battlefields of a dreary
horror not seen since World War I. Jaafari's visit was designed to erase
the bitter legacies of that war.

Iraq's Eastern Policy does not come without at least symbolic costs. On
Saturday, Jaafari made a ceremonial visit to the tomb of Ayatollah
Khomeini, on which he laid a wreath. In a meeting with Supreme Jurisprudent
Ali Khamenei on Monday, according to the Tehran Times, Jaafari "called the
late Imam Khomeini the key to the victory of the Islamic Revolution,
adding, 'We hope to eliminate the dark pages Saddam caused in Iran-Iraq
ties and open a new chapter in brotherly ties between the two nations.'"
The American right just about had a heart attack at the possibility (later
shown false) that newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had
been among the militants who took U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979. But the
hostage takers had been blessed by Khomeini himself, to whom Jaafari was
paying compliments.

When Jaafari met the head of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud
Hashemi Shahrudi, on Tuesday, the two discussed expanding judicial
cooperation between the two countries. Shahrudi said that cooperation with
Iran's Draconian "justice system" has had a positive impact on other Muslim
countries. He called for Iraq to coordinate with something called the
"Islamic Human Rights Organization" -- an Orwellian phrase in dictatorial
Iran, a state that tortures political prisoners and engages in other acts
of brutality. And he urged the Iraqi government to put greater reliance on
"popular forces" (local and national Shiite militias) in establishing security.

Jaafari was probably only indulging his clerical host, but his Dawa Party
certainly does hope to have Islamic law play a greater role in Iraqi
society. The New York Times revealed on Wednesday that the new draft of the
Iraqi constitution will put personal status matters, many of them affecting
women, under religious courts.

For his polite forbearance as his Iranian hosts boasted of the superiority
of their Islamic government and grumbled about all those trouble-making
American troops in the Iraqi countryside, Jaafari was richly rewarded. Iran
offered to pay for three pipelines that would stretch across the southern
border of the two countries. Iraq will ship 150,000 barrels a day of light
crude to Iran to be refined, and Iran will ship back processed petroleum,
kerosene and gasoline. The plan could be operational within a year,
according to Petroleum Minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, whose father is a
prominent Shiite cleric.

In addition, Iran will supply electricity. Iran will sell Iraq 200,000 tons
of wheat. Iran is offering Iraq use of its ports to transship goods to
Iraq. Iran is offering a billion dollars in foreign aid. Iran will step up
cooperation in policing the borders of the two countries. Supreme
Jurisprudent Khamenei has called for the preservation of the territorial
integrity of Iraq. In fact, Iran is offering so much for so little that it
looks an awful lot like influence peddling.

The previous week, Defense Minister Saadoun Dulaimi had made a preparatory
trip to Tehran, exploring the possibility of military cooperation between
the two countries. At one point it even seemed that the two had reached an
agreement that Iran would help train Iraqi troops. One can only imagine
that Washington went ballistic and applied enormous pressure on Jaafari to
back off this plan. The Iraqi government abandoned it, on the grounds that
an international agreement had already specified that out-of-country
training of Iraqi troops in the region should be done in Jordan. But the
Iraqi government did give Tehran assurances that they would not allow Iraqi
territory to be used in any attack on Iran -- presumably a reference to the
United States.

Iranian leaders pressed Jaafari on the continued presence in Iraq of the
Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian terrorist organization with ties to the
Pentagon, elements in the Israeli lobby, and members of the U.S. Congress
and Senate. Saddam had used the MEK to foment trouble for Iran. Jaafari
promised that they had been disarmed and would not be allowed to conduct
terrorist raids from Iraqi soil.

Not surprisingly, the warming relations between Tehran and Baghdad have
greatly alarmed Iraq's Sunni Muslims. They know that Iranian offers of help
in training Iraqi security officers, and Iranian professions of support for
a united, peaceful Iraq are code for the suppression by Shiite troops and
militias of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. Many Iraqi Sunnis believe
that the Sunni Arabs are the true majority, but that millions of illegal
Iranian emigrants masquerading as Iraqi Shiites have flooded into the
country, skewing vote totals in the recent elections. This belief, for all
its irrationality, makes them especially suspicious of Shiite politicians
cozying up to the ayatollahs in Tehran. A recent BBC documentary reported
that the Sunnis of Fallujah despise Iraqi Shiites even more than they do
the Americans, in part because they code them as Persians (in fact they are

Although officials in Washington felt constrained to issue polite
assurances that they want good relations between Iraq and Iran, the U.S.
State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and hawks in the Bush
administration all have a grudge against Iran, and would as soon overthrow
the mullahs as spit at them. But thanks to the Iraq debacle, that is no
longer a viable option. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack revealed
the true amount of influence Washington has in Baghdad when he admitted
that the Bush administration has not "had a chance" to discuss Jaafari's
trip to Iran with the prime minister.

The Iranians hold a powerful hand in the Iraqi poker game. They have
geopolitical advantages, are flush with petroleum profits because of the
high price of oil, and have much to offer their new Shiite Iraqi partners.
Their long alliance with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani gives them Kurdish
support as well. Bush's invasion removed the most powerful and dangerous
regional enemy of Iran, Saddam Hussein, from power. In its aftermath, the
religious Shiites came to power at the ballot box in Iraq, bestowing on
Tehran firm allies in Baghdad for the first time since the 1950s. And in a
historic irony, Iran's most dangerous enemy of all, the United States,
invaded Iran's neighbor with an eye to eventually toppling the Tehran
regime -- but succeeded only in defeating itself.

The ongoing chaos in Iraq has made it impossible for Bush administration
hawks to carry out their long-held dream of overthrowing the Iranian
regime, or even of forcing it to end its nuclear ambitions. (The Iranian
nuclear research program will almost certainly continue, since the Iranians
are bright enough to see what happened to the one member of the "axis of
evil" that did not have an active nuclear weapons program.) The United
States lacks the troops, but perhaps even more critically, it is now
dependent on Iran to help it deal with a vicious guerrilla war that it
cannot win. In the Middle East, the twists and turns of history tend to
make strange bedfellows -- something the neocons, whose breathtaking
ignorance of the region helped bring us to this place, are now learning to
their dismay.

More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it is difficult to
see what real benefits have accrued to the United States from the Iraq war,
though a handful of corporations have benefited marginally. In contrast,
Iran is the big winner. The Shiites of Iraq increasingly realize they need
Iranian backing to defeat the Sunni guerrillas and put the Iraqi economy
right, a task the Americans have proved unable to accomplish. And Iran will
still be Iraq's neighbor long after the fickle American political class has
switched its focus to some other global hot spot.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Iran is Key to Course Change in Iraq
By Trita Parsi, IPS News
Posted on November 10, 2006, Printed on November 10, 2006

Both events open up opportunities for Washington to find new avenues to resolve its many problems with Iran. The key to the elections -- and to Iran -- is Iraq. In light of the soon-to-be published Iraq Study Group report, it is increasingly clear that headway can neither be made on Iraq nor the nuclear stand-off with Iran unless the two are linked.

The victory of the Democrats and the firing of Rumsfeld have shifted the balance between the pragmatists and the neoconservatives in the administration. As secretary of defence, Rumsfeld was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney in opposing every effort to open up diplomatic channels to Tehran.

According to Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, it was Cheney and Rumsfeld who made sure that Washington dismissed Iran's May 2003 offer to open up its nuclear programme, rein in Hezbollah, recognise a two-state solution and cooperate against al Qaeda. Rumsfeld was also a driving force behind using the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian terrorist organisation opposed to the ruling clerics, to weaken Tehran.

Robert Gates, however, belongs to a different school of Republican foreign policy thinking. Gates' entrance and the Republican leadership's exit have created a precious opportunity to change the course on Iraq -- and on Iran. For years, the Bush administration has pursued a maximalist policy based on rejecting any links between the Iranian nuclear programme and the many other areas where the U.S. and Iran clash. By refusing any linkages, the Bush White House has aimed to gain maximum concessions from Iran in all areas without ever having to reciprocate or offer any concessions in return.

This was clearly seen in Afghanistan, where President Bush's envoy opened up talks with Iran to coordinate efforts to dispose the Taliban regime. Bush's intentions were purely tactical -- accept Iranian help in Afghanistan without permitting the cooperation to lead to a shift in attitude towards Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, were hoping that their assistance in Afghanistan would have strategic implications with an entire new relationship between Tehran and Washington as the ultimate outcome.

Once Iran's help in Afghanistan was no longer deemed necessary, Washington's approach to Tehran cooled significantly, much thanks to the influence of Rumsfeld. Only weeks after the Bonn Conference in December 2001 where Tehran's assistance was crucial in finding a compromise between Afghanistan's many warlords, Bush put Iran into the "Axis of Evil". Tehran's goodwill gestures were for naught.

"Iran made a mistake not to link its assistance in Afghanistan to American help in other areas and by just hoping that the U.S. would reciprocate," Iran's U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif, who was in charge of Iran's negotiations with Washington over Afghanistan, told IPS.

The Bush administration's insistence on rejecting all forms of linkages has made a bad situation worse. On the one hand, the lesson of Afghanistan for Tehran has been to run a very hard bargain with the United States where no help is offered for free. As a result, Washington has been left to deal with the deteriorating situation in Iraq all by itself.

On the other hand, Washington's efforts to put a halt to Iran's nuclear programme have run into a dead-end. Washington has reduced U.S.-Iran relations to a zero-sum game about enrichment. Either Iran has enrichment, or it doesn't. The Bush administration has not permitted any middle ground to exist in hopes that it could completely deprive Iran of all nuclear know-how.

But in this game of the winner takes it all, Iran has so far been winning. Washington has not even been able to get the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution imposing travel restrictions on Iranian officials involved in Tehran's nuclear programme.

Much indicates that the only way out of this dead-end is to do what Bush -- and Rumsfeld -- have refused to do all along: link Iranian cooperation in Iraq to Washington's willingness to find a compromise on the nuclear issue, where enrichment will be seen as a continuous rather than a binary variable. The White House refused such linkages in the past since it sought complete victories. Now, creating linkages is necessary in order to avoid complete defeats in both Iraq and in Iran.

James Baker's Iraq Study Group has already paved the way for dealing with Iran over Iraq, though Bush is yet to sign off on the idea of linkage. Earlier in October, Baker met with Javad Zarif at the Iranian ambassador's residence in New York. The meeting lasted three hours and was deemed as very helpful by both sides. Baker was told that Iran would consider helping the United States in Iraq if "Washington first changed its attitude towards Iran," a euphemism for Bush administration's unwillingness to deal with Iran in a strategic manner.

While the recent political earthquakes in Washington have raised hope that a shift in both Iraq and Iran may be forthcoming, President Bush is still the final decision maker. Neither a Democratic Congress nor a pragmatist in charge of the Pentagon is likely to change the course on Iraq and Iran unless the president recognizes the reality on the ground -- without Iran, the United States cannot win in Iraq, and without linking Iraq to the nuclear issue, Tehran's services are not available.

Dr. Trita Parsi is the author of "Treacherous Triangle -- The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States" (Yale University Press, 2007).

3:13 PM  
Blogger Management said...

A New Perspective on Iran?

Whatever else he may bring to his new job at the Pentagon, Robert Gates apparently holds a view on the highly sensitive subject of relations with Iran that hasn’t been embraced by all his new colleagues in the Bush administration.

At a White House news conference, President Bush made the stunning announcement that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is departing, to be replaced by Gates. That announcement will immediately focus attention on the views held by Gates, a longtime Washington national security hand who was a leading adviser to President Bush’s father during the first war with Iraq.

On at least one Persian Gulf issue, Gates has been associated with a different approach than the one now being pursued. In the summer of 2004, Gates and former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski co-chaired a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations that argued for opening a dialogue with Iran. The task force’s report contended that the lack of American engagement with Iran had harmed American interests, and advocated direct talks with the Iranians. “Just as the United States has a constructive relationship with China (and earlier did so with the Soviet Union) while strongly opposing certain aspects of its internal and international policies, Washington should approach Iran with a readiness to explore areas of common interests while continuing to contest objectionable policy,” said the report, entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach.” (Read the task force’s report and Read excerpts of Gates’s writings on Iraq, Iran, terrorism, intelligence.)

Bush’s announcement of the change at the Pentagon seemed to be a direct contradiction to his contention last week that Rumsfeld would be saying on the job. But the president’s description of how the change took place made clear that the decision to replace Rumsfeld was already in the works as he made those comments. The president described the change not by saying that defense secretary had decided to leave, but by saying that “after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed” it was time for a change. –Gerald F. Seib

3:14 PM  

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