From: A Big Stick and a Small Carrot:
That’s Iraq’s Prime Minister Maliki shaking hands with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad yesterday. If you genuinely believe the self-serving, spurious rhetoric spouted by Bush and Blair in relation to their “war” on terror, it’s a photo of our strong new ally in that “war” shaking hands with the new Hitler.
and Garry goes on to explain the links between Mr Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party and Tehran.
It goes further than that, though; as the Royal Institute of International Affairs (aka Chatham House) explains in a recent report,
‘it is Iran, not the US, and certainly not the UK, that is the most influential “external” power in Iraq today, with an unparalleled ability to affect stability and security across most of the country‘. (p 21)
This is because of Iran’s political ties with, and financial backing for, all the Shia political parties and militias in Iraq; as the report explains,
It is very easy for Iran to undertake a policy of determining the political colouring of the south of Iraq by influencing the political parties. Virtually every Iraqi Shi’a party now has strong links with Tehran. SCIRI’s orientation towards Tehran is well documented – indeed, SCIRI was formed in Tehran in 1982 and its Badr Army was itself a product of Iranian Revolutionary Guard training and even staffing. Even Muqtada al-Sadr – a figure deemed by many pundits to be an ‘Iraqi’ nationalist and not an Iranian stooge – is, in fact, also part of the Iranian patronage network in Iraq. Muqtada’s Jaish al-Mahdi may now be several hundred thousand strong and is itching for the opportunity to be unleashed upon both the Arab Sunni insurgents and the Multinational Force. It is the Jaish al-Mahdi that would probably be the recipient of the numerous Iranians who have apparently already signed up for martyrdom attacks against US forces, should the time come.
Furthermore, it is not only in the south that Iran can make its presence felt in Iraq. The Iranian presence is keenly felt in Iraq’s Kurdish cities, including Suleimaniyah and Erbil. Currently relatively peaceful, the Kurdistan region remains vulnerable to Iranian and Turkish interventions and it is not inconceivable that this one relative success story of the regime change could be turned into a dangerous and volatile region, like the rest of Iraq. Also, Iran is perfectly capable of supplying and supporting insurgent groups of an Arab Sunni hue – even those associated with Al-Qaeda – and these groups would be more than happy to accept any assistance to take the fight to the US. (p 19)
The report concludes
Iraqis … recognize that they are caught between the geopolitical wishes of two powers, both of which have to be satisfied. The US maintains a dominant presence on their territory, and retains a formative influence over Iraq’s development and integration into the international community. The wishes of the US, therefore, cannot be ignored. But the problem is that the same argument can be applied to the Iran–Iraq relationship. In terms of pure influence, Tehran now has more than Washington and, more importantly, its ability to affect Iraq exists at the level of the street in addition to the more confined spaces of the Green Zone. Furthermore, the ability of Iran to influence Iraqi decision-makers is very well developed, not only among the Shi’a leadership, but also with the Kurds, and to a lesser extent, the Sunnis. Caught between such immovable forces, the Iraqi government may find itself having to say one thing to the US, but in effect, taking pragmatic actions that are more satisfying for Iran. (p 20).
Tony Blair told the Labour Party Conference in 2004 that
But at the heart of this [controversy about the invasion and WMD], is a belief that the basic judgment I have made since September 11th, including on Iraq, is wrong, that by our actions we have made matters worse not better.
Yesterday’s Telegraph reported
America’s most senior marine intelligence officer in Iraq has concluded that the province at the heart of the insurgency is under al-Qa’eda’s control and that the United States military can do little to change the situation.
The secret report was written by Col Pete Devlin, who oversees intelligence operations for the 22,000 American marines in Iraq.
According to yesterday’s Washington Post, his assessment has sparked an intense debate among American officers because of its main finding that the counter-insurgency campaign in Anbar province has failed despite three years of fighting.
The BBC reported on Friday that
The Iraqi ministry of health says more than 1,500 people were killed in attacks in Baghdad last month. The figure is far higher than previously thought, and only slightly lower than July’s figure. US military and Iraqi officials had previously said a major new security operation in Baghdad had dramatically reduced the number of killings
On Monday, the Telegraph reported how ‘Women in the south are now being forced to wear veils or risk being killed. Much of the middle class — the people whose skills are needed to rebuild the country — have fled abroad.’
For one Iraqi woman’s first-hand account of this, see Riverbend last month:
Residents of Baghdad are systematically being pushed out of the city. Some families are waking up to find a Klashnikov bullet and a letter in an envelope with the words “Leave your area or else.” The culprits behind these attacks and threats are Sadr’s followers- Mahdi Army. It’s general knowledge, although no one dares say it out loud. In the last month we’ve had two different families staying with us in our house, after having to leave their neighborhoods due to death threats and attacks. It’s not just Sunnis- it’s Shia, Arabs, Kurds- most of the middle-class areas are being targeted by militias…
For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen. I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.
The Telegraph report concluded
Some in the Iraqi government are still optimistic that the spike in tit-for-tat killings can be curtailed. Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, even said during Mrs Beckett’s visit that he hoped all British troops could be able to leave by the end of the next year.
But perhaps a better sign of the authority’s expectations can be seen in its actions. This week the Ministry of Health announced it planned to build two new morgues in Baghdad that once completed would enable the city to cope with 250 corpses a day.
So, how have we made things better and not worse there? Saddam’s now in prison where he belongs, certainly, but I can’t help wondering whether — either for us or the Iraqis — ‘the world is a better place with Saddam in prison and not in power’, as Blair told us, in his 2004 Conference speech, it is. For Tehran, certainly it is, but for the rest of us?
Somehow I have visions of Blair standing by the smoking ruins of a house, explaining to anyone who’ll listen, that ‘I can’t, sincerely at least, apologise for getting the cat down from the roof‘.