Thursday, April 03, 2008

Michael Ware and Nir Rosen Discuss Iran's Role in Iraq

On April 2, the Center for American Progress hosted an event with Michael Ware and Nir Rosen entitled “A View from the Ground in Iraq.” While most of the session focused on Iraq, Iran naturally came up in the discussions. In his opening remarks on where Iraq is five years later, Rosen commented “People think there are two occupations now: the Americans and Iran. (Sunni racism leads them to designate all Shia as Iranian, and not “real Arabs.”) People in Iraq think Americans will leave, but Iranians—meaning the Iraqi government, the Shias they defeated and expelled but now are back because the Americans let them in through the back door—are there to stay.”

When asked specifically about Iran’s role, Ware said:

“The big winner of the last 6 years is Iran. The former Iraqi government was blown away, with a vacuum left behind. Iran was best placed to capitalize on that vacuum. Nir is right: there is no such thing as an Iraqi government; it’s a loose, rainbow alliance of separate factions. Key components in the so-called ‘ally’ Iraqi government were either formed in Iran or getting help from Iran.

“The Kurds have their own government; there are essentially two governments in Iraq. Even the PUK leader in the Iraqi government has a well-developed relationship with Iran. The president of the Kurds is seen with caution because of his ties with Iran.

“Iran has a legitimate national strategic interest in Iraq. Iraqi leaders are told they have some choices to make. Iran tells them they are a regional superpower, they will be a nuclear power, and unlike Iraq’s American friends, they are never leaving.

“Dealing with Iran’s influence has caused fractures in America’s Arab alliance. A byproduct has been the Sunni Awakening Movement. They hate Iranians and are willing to fight them. They used to fight with al-Qaeda against us, and now they fight with us against al-Qaeda. Really, they are being used as a stick to beat the Iraqi government. They are anti-government forces. The Iraqi government is their number 1 enemy when America is not around to censor what they say. When asked what they’ll do after America leaves, they say they’ll keep their weapons, and then the real fight begins.”

Gareth Porter also posed the question “If the US is seriously interested in political reconciliation, wouldn’t it be more interested in aligning with al-Sadr, given that he’s a nationalist and can reach out the Sunnis?”

Ware responded, “Muqtada, from the American perspective is up for grabs at some point. He is no friend of Iran; he is an Iraqi nationalist. He has been forced into relations with Iran, but he does not toe the line. The Iranians put pressure on the Dawa party to cause factions, which suits them. I think that’s what we’re seeing here. Al-Sadr serves American and Iranian interests, but I think America may have missed the boat on this one. My fear is that the Sunni-Shia divide will not be erased for a long time to come. Most Iraqis do not bear this in their hearts, but political events in the recent past have forced this upon them.”

Rosen added, “Muqtada, being in Iran, is losing credibility among his supporters.”

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