Monday, March 8, 2010

Is The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Too Distracted By Internal Affairs To Be Meddling In Iraq Right Now?

When the Accountability and Justice Commission that took over form the old deBaathification Commission banned 511 candidates from Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary vote, the U.S. was quick to blame the move on Iran. On January 27 for example, General David Petraeus accused the Accountability Commission of working at the behest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The next month the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq General Ray Odierno said that the two heads of the Commission Ahmad Chalabi and Ali al-Lami were working with Iran as well. Later on February 25, the U.S. military leaked a report to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about Iran’s support for parties in the election. The paper said that the Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, which is responsible for their foreign operations including Iraq, pushed for the formation of the Iraqi National Alliance, which is made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Sadrists, the Fadhila Party, the Iraqi National Congress, and former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. The Americans claimed that Iran was paying $9 million a month to the Supreme Council and $8 million to the Sadrists to help with their campaigning. They said that Iran had a hit list of 600 Iraqis that fought in the Iran-Iraq War that it wanted eliminated as well. Chalabi and Lami responded by saying that the U.S. was trying to bring Baathists back into power and denied any Iranian influence. The two also didn’t need Tehran to tell them to go after the nationalist and secular candidates. Either way, the war of words between Washington and Tehran seemed to be on.

Two other reports have surfaced however that questions whether Iran is that interested in the daily affairs of Iraq right now. The police chief in Maysan province for example, told Newsweek in February 2010 that Qods Force members use to visit the governorate every month, but now haven’t visited in 6-7 months. The police chief believed that Iran’s internal problems with suppressing its opposition after their June 2009 presidential elections had distracted Tehran from working within Iraq. General Petraeus supported that view during a recent speech in Washington where he said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had turned to the Revolutionary Guards and their Qods Force for support and security after the Iranian voting,  sucking them into internal politics.

The truth of the matter of Iran’s current role in Iraq is probably somewhere in between these stories. Iran is definitely supporting Shiite parties in Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary voting as it always has, and did help put together the National Alliance. That suits its main goal, which is a Shiite run government in Baghdad that will be friendly to Tehran and never become a rival again. After Iraq’s voting is finished on March 7, Iran will likely push for the Alliance and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law to mend fences and form a ruling coalition again. That being said, the regime in Tehran is facing a major internal crisis with its public after its own presidential balloting. The Revolutionary Guards were originally formed to protect the Islamic government, and would thus naturally be asked to help in a time like the present to shore up the leadership. It could still be supporting its friends in Iraq without being intimately involved in day-to-day affairs there as it was in the past. Either way, Tehran will continue to play a leading role in Iraq as it has supporters amongst many of the country’s leading parties, is one of the largest trade partners with Iraq, and is the main supplier of religious tourism and students to holy sites in Baghdad, Najaf, and Karbala. Even with its own political problems, Iran will still have these hard and soft power levers to influence events in Iraq.


Alsumaria, “Petraeus: Justice and Accountability manipulated by Iranian Quds Force,” 1/27/10

Dehghanpisheh, Babak, Barry, John and Dickey, Christopher, “Rebirth of a Nation,” Newsweek, 3/8/10

Dickey, Christopher, “The Sandman Cometh,” Newsweek, 3/4/10

Ignatius, David, “Tehran’s Vote Buying in Iraq,” Washington Post, 2/25/10

Pessin, Al, “US Commander Says Iran Planned Political Dispute in Iraq,” Voice of America, 2/16/10


Jason said...

Regardless who ends up being the new PM, it looks to me like 2/3's of the new parliament will be nationalists, firmly opposed to forming new autonomous regions or giving the Kurdish region more power.

Joel Wing said...

How the new government acts will be determined by which party gets the Prime Minstership. If Maliki is re-elected his opponents will block major legislation in parliament like they did in 2009 and it'll be gridlock.

If Allawi's National Movement gets it, than there could be some breakthroughs on big laws.

That's what's more important than the make-up of the parties becuase no matter what the Kurds are going to be in the government, and probably the Supreme Council as well. I do not think that Allawi and Maliki will make a coalition if they finish 1 & 2. Rather they will compete for the prime minsitership and try to exclude the other by courting the Kurds and National Alliance.

Jason said...

The Kurds and SIIC were in the last govt, but that did not enable them to pass the laws required to increase Kurdish territory or carve out a new Shia enclave in the South. I don't see their chances improving with even weaker numbers. Even assuming Maliki makes them promises to keep his PM job, I don't see how he could possibly deliver. (Or does this renewed nationalism exist only in my imagination?) This may be one issue where gridlock is in Iraq's long term best interest.

That article on Iraq in The Economist today is certainly discouragingly negative. Hard to know how seriously to take it, though. For about the last year The Economist has started trying to track its readers preferences instead of actual reporting. (Eg, its refusal to report the AGW crackup) But we shall see.

Joel Wing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel Wing said...


What the old parliament was largely known for was deadlock on major legislation. Unless it had to be passed, i.e. budget or election law, hardly anything else got through. In 2009 Maliki's opponents also made a concerted effort to block laws being passed to make him look bad. I would expect more of the same if he were to be re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Why would any Iraqi citizen who cares about Iraq want to break it up?

The Iranians should stop interfering in Iraq. They are in fact only worsening tensions with Iraq by doing so, especially since the parties they support are almost completely incompetent, Shi'a militant parties, like al-Maliki's own al-Dawa.
It seems like the more effective politicians have been nationalists and in-closets Baathis.
In fact, 20,000 officers from the old Iraqi Army have been reinstated. It isn't far-fetched to assume many of them love what built up and developed Iraq in the past, and won't put up with Iranian carpetbagger parties. I would at least hope nowadays that more and more of the Iraqi Shi'a have come out of the Islamic revolution illusion and are embracing reality and the improvement of their country, so that they won't back any militant party that even would think of mixing any sort of Sharia above secularism.

Nice article. Not the average news you hear.

Jason said...

Anon, Joel is the expert here, but I'll try to answer. I'm sure he'll correct me if I get it wrong.

The Kurds in the north actually don't care about Iraq (except that they need protection from Turkey and Iran). Ideally, they want to take as much of the northern oilfields as they can and break away to create a new country, Kurdistan. Or at a minimum, to increase the territory of their autonomous zone, and control over the extraction and proceeds of their oilfields.

Similarly, the NIA coalition (Sadrists and SIIC) in the south want to form a similar autonomous zone, take control of the giant oilfields there and their proceeds, and create an Iran-friendly Sharia theocracy.

You may not be crazy about Maliki, but he broke from the INA to run as a nationalist (except that he may be tempted to cut a deal with the Kurds/INA to win back his PM job) Yes, Maliki played the sectarian card during the campaigning period, but that was presumably to protect his conservative flank from the INA. One lesson about democracy is that you have to give much greater weight to a politicians earlier actions, and discount anything he says or does in the run-up to elections. Maliki has a proven history of crushing Sadr's militia, making some efforts at reconciliation (like hiring those Sunnis back into the military), and playing some hardball with the Kurds over their ambitions to control the northern oilfields.

As to how may Shia want an Iranian-style theocracy, we shall find out shortly, as measured by the share of votes won by the INA.

And yes, there is an excellent chance that Iraq will remain mired in Socialist incompetence and corruption for generations to come.

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