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Al-Maliki encourages Iran’s growing presence in Iraq

By: Alireza Jafarzadeh
Source: Chicago Tribune
On the surface, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s visit to Tehran on Aug. 8 to talk with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was another effort to enlist Iran’s help in bringing security to Iraq. The real purpose, however, was quite different. Al-Maliki’s trip helped smooth the way for the Iranian clerics to install a sister Islamic republic in Iraq.

Al-Maliki met with the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad and other senior officials. Maliki told Ahmadinejad that Tehran is playing a "positive and constructive" role in improving security in Iraq.

Tehran’s leaders were quick to praise al-Maliki. Iranian television broadcast a statement of support for al-Maliki from Khamenei while calling for the American forces to leave Iraq. "We should support the elected government of Iraq, and all of the factions and ethnic groups should cooperate with the elected government," Khamenei said.

While al-Maliki builds relations with the Iranian regime, the Iraqi people as well as his own government reject him. Out of his 37 cabinet members, 17 have resigned or stopped attending official meetings, which is virtually grinding the executive branch to a halt.

Al-Maliki’s agenda is clearly at odds with that of the rest of Iraq. Under his watch, Iran has dramatically increased its deadly intervention in Iraq. On Aug. 6, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno reported that 75 percent of the attacks that kill or injure Americans in Iraq are committed by Shiite militias that are trained, armed and funded by Iran. These attacks include Iran-manufactured explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which are the number one killer of American forces in Iraq. Odierno stated that the 99 attacks utilizing EFPs in July were an "all-time high." So, what has al-Maliki done in response to the very high price that American service men and women are paying for his country and the region?

Instead of fulfilling his duty to disband and disarm the militias, al-Maliki has further empowered the militias who are major contributors to sectarian violence and killings in Iraq. Instead of building unity among all factions in Iraq, al-Maliki has used the opportunity to strengthen his own pro-Tehran faction within the government. Instead of attempting to secure the country by cutting off the suppliers of weapons and explosives, he has signaled to Tehran that the violence perpetrated by its eastern neighbor is actually improving the security in Iraq.

Days after U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker presented a long list of terrorist activities by Tehran as the main source of instability in Iraq, al-Maliki told his Iranian counterparts that Iran’s role is positive. A day before his trip to Tehran, in an interview with al-Iraqia television, al-Maliki called for the expulsion of Iran’s main opposition movement, which has a base headquarters in Ashraf City, Iraq. Iran’s leaders consider this anti-regime group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, its most formidable threat, and a major obstacle to Tehran’s complete domination of Iraq. "The presence of the [Mujahedeen Khalq] in Iraq is detrimental to Iran’s security," he stated. Al-Maliki is apparently more concerned about the security of the Iranian regime than the security of Iraq.

Iran is throwing everything it has behind the radical Shiites in Iraq in order to escalate the fighting and convince the U.S. Congress to retreat, leaving Iraq wide open for the mullahs in Tehran to finish their job.

Instead of negotiating with the Iranian regime, or relying on Iraqi elements with close ties with Tehran to mediate a secure Iraq, the United States should decisively dismantle Tehran’s terror structure in Iraq, empower the more moderate and secular voices of Iraq — Shiites, Sunni and Kurds — and put Tehran on the defensive by reaching out to the democratic opposition in Iran that is already engaged in bringing about democratic change in Iran.

President Bush said that "if the signal [from al-Maliki] is that Iran is constructive, I will have a heart-to-heart with my friend the prime minister, because I don’t believe they [the Iranian leaders] are constructive." Mr. President, the heart-to-heart is long overdue.


Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis."