In an article entitled “Iraq and its neighbours: A regional cockpit,” the latest issue of The Economist reports that U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill and commander of Americans forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno met with the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force General Qassem Suleimani in September 2009. Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani facilitated the meeting, which occurred in his offices in Baghdad. Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan has not only been one of the staunchest supporters of the U.S. since the 1991 Gulf War, but also has long standing ties with Tehran as it fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and received support from them afterward.
According to The Economist Hill and Odierno wanted to get assurances from Suleimani that Iranian backed groups would not attack U.S. forces as they withdrew in 2010, and to warn him that Tehran should not interfere in Iraqi affairs after U.S. combat forces were out of the country. The first request should be easy to accomplish if the Qods Force commander wishes since Iranian-backed Special Groups are hardly active in Iraq anymore. In October 2009 for example, there were only six attacks on U.S. forces in southern Iraq, which were likely the work of Shiite militants. Iranian agents are occasionally caught trying to cross into Iraq, and Iranian made weapons are still being found as well. The second part, however, is not going to happen. Iraq is one of Iran’s major foreign policy concerns. As reported before, Tehran wants to make sure that Iraq never becomes a rival again, and that a friendly Shiite government remains in power in Baghdad. In fact, Iran’s military policy is subservient to these larger goals, which is probably why there are so few Special Groups operating right now as Iran has scaled back its support for them whenever important political evens occur in Iraq. Right now that’s the 2010 parliamentary elections. Tehran is very involved in trying to keep the Shiites together for this vote so that they can come out victorious. For example, the speaker of Iran’s parliament Ali Larijani visited Iraq for four days in early-November 2009 where he tried to convince Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to join the main Shiite coalition the Iraqi National Alliance. What wasn’t mentioned in The Economist article is what prid pro quo the U.S. officials might have offered General Suleimani to call off his activities in Iraq. Without incentives from the United States there is no reason for Iran to listen as it feels that it has the upper hand with the Americans withdrawing.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has been the main way Tehran has tried to influence events in Iraq. In the 1990s the Qods Force was created to carry out the Guards’ foreign policy. In 1998 General Suleimani took command of the Force. It not only funds Shiite parties and militiamen, but is also in charge of trade and smuggling within Iraq.
Alsumaria, “Bombs and missiles seized on Iraqi borders,” 11/16/09
Aswat al-Iraq, “Police arrests 2 Iranians in Khanaqin,” 11/18/09
Badkhen, Anna, “The Iranian factor in Iraq insurgency,” San Francisco Chronicle, 8/21/05
Economist, “A regional cockpit,” 11/19/09
Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08
Majid, Kamal, “An Assessment of the conditions in the Kurdish part of Iraq,” Brussels Tribunal.org, 7/23/08
Phillips, James, “Iran’s Hostile Policies in Iraq,” Heritage Foundation, 4/30/07
Roug, Louise and Daragahi, Borzou, “Iraq Edges Closer to Iran, With or Without the US,” Los Angeles Times, 1/16/07