General Petraeus’s job is constantly made even more difficult by the actions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and often in ways reported — so far as I know — by the local (that is, Iraqi and other regional) media. Take last week, for example, when a major powwow among the Iraqi political leaders was abruptly terminated. It had been expected that the usual suspects, ranging from Kurds to Sunnis and Shiites, would meet in Baghdad to sort out their disagreements about ways to amend the Constitution, distribute oil wealth, and so forth. Everyone from Moqtadah al Sadr to ex-PM Iyad Allawi was going to come. Prime Minister Maliki was under great pressure from Washington and from Petraeus to make some political progress to match the military successes of recent months, and hopes were fairly high that something worthwhile would come out of the talks. But, according to Az-Zaman:
the breakdown occurred when the Iranian government “officially” requested that ex-Prime Minister Iyad ‘Allawi be excluded from the talks, a request that was rejected by the Sunni IAF. As a result, the paper added, Kurdish leader Mas’ud al-Barazani may no longer travel to Baghdad, as was expected, to participate in the dialogue.
Now Az-Zaman is just a local paper, and even the best paper gets it wrong, so this assertion may well be wrong in one detail or another. But the general point is undoubtedly true: Iran plays a direct role within the Iraqi political universe, and both Maliki and Barzani are responsive to Tehran, as are most of the Shiite and Kurdish leaders. Even those who are not inclined to carry out the mullahs’ directives are often obliged to do it, since they know that Iranian-backed terrorists can kill them, and the desire to survive trumps the quest for ideological consistency most of the time.
It is also undoubtedly true that Maliki is widely viewed — by Iraqis of various sectarian labels — as an often excessively enthusiastic ally of Iran. This is no surprise, since his Dawa party evolved from an infamous Iranian-backed terrorist group of the same name. The several reported shouting matches involving Maliki and Petraeus make perfect sense. The Iranians are no doubt furious at the virtual defeat of their al Qaeda proxy in Anbar Province at the hands of a coalition between American forces and Sunni sheikhs and urban citizens. Tehran has undoubtedly made it clear to Maliki that the Sunnis must be prevented from obtaining political legitimacy in the new Iraq, and a man like Allawi, who owes nothing to Iran and has been openly critical of the mullahs, must not be given high standing.
Barzani and other Kurds play a rather more complicated game, but their homeland sits barely across the border from Iran, and both fear and opportunity — the Kurds make a lot of money smuggling things in both directions across that border, and have long received direct subsidies from Tehran in return for various political favors and the like — bring them under the influence of the Islamic Republic.
Thus, in a paradoxical way, our mounting success on the battlefield makes political compromise more difficult for Iraqi leaders, because the Iranian gorilla is in the conference room even though he does not appear in the official accounts. And that gorilla is prepared to smash all the furniture if he does not get his way. At the moment, things are going badly for him and his terrorist friends, and the gorilla is doing everything he can to prevent his losses from being institutionalized.
It appears that the Anbar model is spreading to other regions, and involving Shiites as well as Sunnis. Notice, please, that the Anbar pacification involves Sunnis fighting against other Sunnis, and in other areas we have Shiites fighting against other Shiites. This will surprise only those State Department, academic, and CIA “experts” who have so vociferously insisted that conflict in Iraq is invariably ethnic. It will not surprise those who have spent time in Iraq, and noticed the remarkably high rate of intermarriage between these two groups of theoretically irreconcilable enemies. Nor will it surprise the likes of Canon Andrew White, the courageous Anglican who for years has preached ecumenism among all Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Iraq.
Left to their own devices, the Iraqis would undoubtedly have made considerable progress toward national unity, and a representative government worthy of the name. But the Iraqis are not left alone, because the battle that is currently being waged in their country is part of a larger war, in which the most dangerous force is the Islamic Republic of Iran. Until Iran is defeated, Iraqi leaders will always cater to the edicts coming from Tehran.
So when deep thinkers like Senators Lugar, Biden, Reid, Domenici, and Clinton beat up on the Iraqi political class, and cite their failure as the basis for an American retreat, someone should ask them how they intend to deal with Iran, which is the main saboteur of Iraq, and our main enemy. It seems the Iranians already have a veto power over Iraqi parliamentary proceedings. If we leave, their power will grow dramatically.
And then there will be literally hell to pay.