Monday, June 23, 2008

Vali Nasr: Iranian Policy In Iraq At A Crossroad

Iranian expert Vali Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations just got back from a trip to Iraq. (See interview with Nasr, Stephen Biddle from the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Gordon of the New York Times about their time in Iraq on the Charlie Rose Show posted earlier) Nasr wrote an op. ed. piece for the Washington Post on his observations about Iran and Iraq on June 19, 2008. Nasr’s general opinion is that Iran is at a crossroads in its Iraq policy.

Since the U.S. invasion Iran has wanted a friendly Shiite government running Iraq, but also supported militias to attack the United States and Coalition forces. Following that policy, Iran supported the government of Prime Minister Maliki as well as Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Iran’s stance was at cross purposes however because they wanted both a stable government, but also a chaotic security situation. It was easier to implement their policy during the sectarian war period when Shiites were united against the Sunnis. Everything seemed to be going fine until it came apart in 2008.

The contradictions in Iran’s policy came to the fore when Maliki launched his offensives against Sadr’s militia. Maliki came to see Sadr as a rival and threat to this government, and has systematically moved to disband his movement. As a result, Iran lost much of its influence in Basra, Iraq’s main point, and Sadr City that could threaten the Green Zone.

Nasr believes that Iran now needs to decide upon which part of its policy it will continue with. Will it support Maliki’s government or will it maintain its backing of Shiite militias? Nasr points to the fact that the head of Iran’s Supreme Council for National Security, the mayor or of Tehran, and some in the press have suggested that the government cut ties with Sadr and back Maliki as signs of the debate now going on within Iran.

Nasr ends his op. ed. suggesting that Iran’s setbacks allows an opportunity for the U.S. to negotiate. Secretary of Defense Gates has said that the U.S. needs to build up leverage before it can talk to Iran. The Iraqi government’s success against Sadr, combined with the threat of U.S. bases in Iraq under the Status of Forces Agreement that is now being negotiated are the beginning of that pressure upon Iran, but they don’t seem enough to begin talking to Iran. The Iranian leadership also probably sees Bush as a lame duck that they can wait out until the next administration. That means it will be up to the next administration to decide what the U.S. will do about Iran.

SOURCES:

Carter, Sara, “Iran called primary threat to progress in Iraq,” Washington Times, 5/21/08

Nasr, Vali, “Iran on its Heels,” Washington Post, 6/19/08

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