Thursday, September 20, 2007

Peter Galbraith on the Iran-Iraq Dynamic

Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation Senior Diplomatic Fellow Peter Galbraith’s latest article – “The Victor?” – is now available on the Center’s website.

The essay will appear in the Oct. 11, 2007 issue of the New York Review of Books and reviews Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States by Trita Parsi (Yale University Press).

Here are Galbraith’s culminant remarks on the Iran-Iraq dynamic and the Bush administration's accusations of Iranian meddling in Iraq:

"U.S. pre-war intelligence on Iraq was horrifically wrong on the key question of Iraq's possession of WMDs, and President Bush ignored the intelligence to assert falsely a connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11. This alone is sufficient reason to be skeptical of the Bush administration's statements on Iran.

"Some of the administration's charges against Iran defy common sense. In his Reno speech, President Bush accused Iran of arming the Taliban in Afghanistan while his administration has, at various times, accused Iran of giving weapons to both Sunni and Shiite insurgents in Iraq. The Taliban are Salafi jihadis, Sunni fundamentalists who consider Shiites apostates deserving of death. In power, the Taliban brutally repressed Afghanistan's Shiites and nearly provoked a war with Iran when they murdered Iranian diplomats inside the Iranian consulate in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Iraq's Sunni insurgents are either Salafi jihadis or Baathists, the political party that started the Iran-Iraq War.

"The Iranian regime may believe it has a strategic interest in keeping U.S. forces tied down in the Iraqi quagmire since this, in the Iranian view, makes an attack on Iran unlikely. U.S. clashes with the Mahdi Army complicate the American military effort in Iraq and it is plausible that Iran might provide some weapons - including armor-penetrating IEDs - to the Mahdi Army and its splinter factions. Overall, however, Iran has no interest in the success of the Mahdi Army. Moqtada al-Sadr has made Iraqi nationalism his political platform. He has attacked the SIIC for its pro-Iranian leanings and challenged Iraq's most important religious figure, Ayatollah Sistani, himself an Iranian citizen. Asked about charges that Iran was organizing Iraqi insurgents, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told the Financial Times on May 10, "The whole idea is unreasonable. Why should we do that? Why should we undermine a government in Iraq that we support more than anybody else?"

"The United States cannot now undo President Bush's strategic gift to Iran. But importantly, the most pro-Iranian Shiite political party is the one least hostile to the United States. In the battle now underway between the SIIC and Moqtada al-Sadr for control of southern Iraq and of the central government in Baghdad, the United States and Iran are on the same side. The U.S. has good reason to worry about Iran's activities in Iraq. But contrary to the Bush administration's allegations - supported by both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker in their recent congressional testimony - Iran does not oppose Iraq's new political order. In fact, Iran is the major beneficiary of the American-induced changes in Iraq since 2003."

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