This week, Iraq has drawn decisively closer to the two countries
the US alleges are the greatest threats to peace and stability in
the Middle East.
Tuesday, Syria restored diplomatic ties with Iraq that were
broken by Saddam Hussein in 1980 back when Iraq was fighting Iran.
Also Tuesday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's office said he would
travel to Tehran this weekend to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad to talk about restoring order to Iraq.
The US has repeatedly accused Iran and Syria of stirring up
violence inside Iraq, but recently the notion of isolating them as
punishment has lost favor in Washington. A growing number President
Bush's advisers are urging direct dialogue with both nations. They
argue that engagement could convince Syria to do more to prevent
foreign fighters from entering Iraq; Iran could exert more influence
on Iraq's dominant Shiite political parties (and their militias) to
"It could make a difference, but not a critical difference,''
says Anthony Cordesman, former director of intelligence assessment
to the US Secretary of Defense and now a senior fellow at the Center
for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.
Iran has been accused of being deeply involved in training,
funding, and arming the two major Shiite militias in Iraq, where
Tehran has historic ties to the current Shiite political leadership.
Many Iraqi Shiites spent years in Iranian exile during Mr. Hussein's
decades in power in Baghdad. One militia, the Badr Brigade, was
trained in Iran by the Revolutionary Guard.
"While of course it's worth talking to them, even if they
complied with all our wishes, what they could do probably would not
be decisive,'' says Wayne White, former head of the Middle East desk
at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
"The situation is so bad now in Iraq," he says, "you can't expect
any magic over there. And even if you could get the Iranians and
Syrians to accomplish things you wanted, what would you have to
cough up in return?"
Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who served under
President Bush's father and is now the leader of the Iraq Study
Group (ISG) advising the president on new directions for his Iraq
policy, has been quietly meeting with Syrian officials in the US,
according to an interview with the Syrian ambassador to the US
reported by The New York Times. He also met with Iran's ambassador
to the United Nations.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has publicly called for more
direct engagement, and members of the ISG have been quietly urging
more direct ties with Iran, as well. …