Magazine article The American Conservative

Dangerous Liaison: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Courts Iraq

Magazine article The American Conservative

Dangerous Liaison: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Courts Iraq

Article excerpt

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's triumphant state visit to Iraq earlier this month offered particularly grim evidence of the epic failure of U.S. policy and ambitions.

Iran's controversial leader, the Bush administration's public enemy number two after Osama bin Laden, received a warm official reception in downtown Baghdad, well outside the Fort Apache Green Zone beyond which Americans dare not venture. Most galling to Washington, while President Bush and Vice President Cheney have to slip unannounced into Iraq and remain in the safety of U.S. military bases before hastily decamping, Iran's leader made a very public and splashy overnight visit that looked at times as if he were running for office in Iraq.

Ahmadinejad's visit was billed as historic, and so it was. Many bitter legacies of the bloody 1980s Iran-Iraq War, in which one million soldiers died, were laid to rest. Iran's president became the first Mideast leader to visit post-Saddam Iraq. Iran was also the first Mideast nation to recognize the provisional Iraqi regime installed by the U.S. after the 2003 invasion, but at the time few Americans understood why Tehran was so delighted to see the new regime in Baghdad.

The message conveyed by Ahmadinejad's state visit was that "liberated" Iraq is increasingly influenced by Iran and appears to be slipping inexorably into Tehran's orbit. That is bad news for Washington, which has so far invested $700 billion and 5,000 lives in an abortive effort to turn Iraq into a U.S. oil protectorate, a sort of second Saudi Arabia minus the uncooperative royal family.

Iraq's largest, most powerful Shia Party, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC, formerly SCIRI), which dominates the Baghdad government and its militias, rolled out the red carpet. Small wonder: most of its leadership, starting with its head, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, took refuge in Iran in the 1980s, from which they waged a struggle to overthrow Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime. SIIC's militia, aka the Iraqi army, was trained and armed by Iran. Some Sunni observers claim it is virtually an arm of Iran's secret service and is close to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Both Iraq's U.S.-installed prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and president, Jalal Talabani, went out of their way to welcome Ahmadinejad in spite of Washington's protestations that Iran was "stirring up terrorism" in Iraq. From behind the concrete crenellations of the Green Zone, Americans watched glumly as their enemy was given the opportunity to launch more tirades against the Great Satan in Washington and call for the pullout of U.S. troops.

But the sudden warmth of Iraq's leadership for Iran was due less to brotherly affection than to Realpolitik. Most Iraqis have concluded the writing is on the wall for the U.S. occupation, notwithstanding Sen. John McCain's bizarre vow to keep U.S. troops there "for 100 years, if necessary." Once the Americans leave, Iraq's new big brother will inevitably be Iran, the spiritual lodestar of its Shia majority.

For the past four years, Iran's economic and political influence has been relentlessly oozing into Iraq. The border has become porous and is regularly crossed by large numbers of Shia pilgrims, numerous Iranian military and intelligence agents among them. Iraq has also become Iran's leading export market. It is building power plants there and will soon supply electricity across the border. …

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