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Iran’s Subversion of Iraq and U.S. Options

Raymond Tanter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, is an adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute, researching U.S. policy options toward Iran. From 1981 to 1982, Dr. Tanter served on the National Security Council staff and was personal representative of the secretary of defense to the 1983-1984 arms control talks held in Madrid, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna. Currently, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.NCRI – Professor Raymond Tanter, chair of the Washington based Iran Policy Committee, addressed before a panel on Democratic change in Iran on December 18 at the University of Toronto on the threats of the Iranian regime to Iraq. The meeting was organized by the Committee for Defense of Human Rights in Iran. The following is the full text of his speech:
With the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad, Tehran is in the process of subverting Iraq. Given the need for Iran to cease subversion of Iraq, inability of diplomacy to persuade Tehran to stop such activities, and lack of a credible military option, there is a need to consider a policy of empowering the Iranian people to bring about regime change for Iran.
Iran’s Efforts to Subvert Iraq
Regime change in Baghdad created a political vacuum into which Iran has moved with great speed. Tehran engages in:
•    Penetrating Iraqi society by gaining control of local authorities such as governing offices, municipalities, and judiciaries
•    Infiltrating Iraq with Iraqis from Iran: Many Iraqis have dual nationalities and have been trained by Tehran for nearly 20 years so as to be in a position to join the Iraqi police force in a post-Saddam era; some Iraqis have even been operating at commander levels within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards
•    Establishing local charitable organizations to aid local populations and create a favorable social environment for recruiting. Iran tested this tactic and found it worthwhile in southern Lebanon
 
While it is to be expected that Iran would work on behalf of legitimate Iraqi political groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and even paramilitary militias like the Badr Organization, Iran also engages in covert subversive activities in Iraq. With the assistance of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Jerusalem Force, Iraqi Hizballah seeks to carry out Tehran’s agenda. It includes gathering intelligence on U.S. and British forces in Iraq, acquiring and storing weapons, as well as building and expanding a subversive network in Iraq.
And in fall 2003, Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, accused Iran of allowing several hundred members of Ansar al Islam, which set up a Taliban-style ministate in Kurdish-controlled territory in 2001, to reenter Iraq.
In September 2003, Bremer told the Senate Appropriations Committee that “elements of the Iranian government are causing mischief in Iraq, interfering in affairs through their intelligence services and through the Revolutionary Guards.”  
According to the Pentagon, over half of all U.S. casualties in Iraq stem from homemade bombs buried along a road, detonated by remote control or timer. There have been some 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed and almost 15,500 wounded in Iraq between March 2003 and about November 2005. Increasingly the source of bomb technology killing multinational forces in Iraq is Tehran.
During November 2005, a senior British general, who commands a 13,000-strong multinational division in southeastern Iraq, said that sophisticated technology and explosives to make improvised bombs killing American and British troops in Iraq are apparently entering the country from Iran. And as early as August, moreover, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that weapons found in Iraq were “clearly, unambiguously” from Iran.
U.S. Options
In view of Iran’s subversive activities in Iraq, Washington has three options: diplomacy; threat of military action; and democratic change for Iran. Just as diplomacy is failing to reign in Iran’s efforts to create a complete nuclear bombmaking cycle, it is unlikely that diplomacy will be effective in getting Iran to cease subverting Iraq.
Nevertheless, Washington is on the right track in allowing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to make contact with Iranian authorities to persuade Tehran to cease its subversion of Iraq. But it takes two parties to negotiate, and it does not appear as if Iran were interested in negotiating constraints on its activities in Iraq.
While the threat of military force should remain on the table, Tehran views such threat increasingly incredible in view of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. With diplomacy uncertain and military threats incredible, at issue the viability of a third alternative—regime change for Tehran.
Consider President Bush’s remarks October 6, 2005. Speaking before the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, the President said that the United States is determined to deny radical groups the support and sanctuary of outlaw regimes. Indeed, President Bush stated that, “The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor terrorists, because they are equally guilty of murder.” The significance of the President’s remarks is that they imply regime change is on the table for Iran.
By 2005, the Bush Administration increased its support for the Iranian people in their quest for self determination and began to recognize the role of the opposition in facilitating regime change in Tehran. In his National Endowment for Democracy address, the President said: “We are standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes, because we know that the dissidents of today will be the democratic leaders of tomorrow.” But who are the Iranian dissidents of today? One answer is to determine which of the democratic opposition groups the regime fears most.
Using English and then Farsi language websites, an Iran Policy Committee (IPC) research team performed content analyses of Iranian leadership statements about opposition groups. The greater the number of times the regime mentions a specific group, the higher that group is on the regime’s agenda. It is remarkable to note that the pro-democracy Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) is the topic of discussion over 230% more often than all other groups combined. The results suggest that the regime is worried about the MEK because of the latent and overt support the group has within the Iranian population and the capability of the MEK to facilitate regime change.
On the basis of these data, Tehran perceives a threat from the MEK and tolerates other “opposition” groups. If Tehran views its main opponents as threatening, U.S. policy should use that perception in a strategy of coercive diplomacy toward the regime. In other words, Washington should remove the Iranian opposition groups from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list maintained by the Department of State. Another reason for removal is that these organizations do not belong on the FTO because they are terrorist groups.
When Mohammad Khatami became President of the government of Iran in 1997, Washington decided to strengthen “moderates” within the Iranian clerical establishment. By designating Tehran’s most important domestic adversary—the MEK—as a member of the FTO, the U.S. Government attempted to reinforce the Khatami faction.
But with the ascent of a hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, there is a consolidation of power by the Supreme Leader of Iran—Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—and no longer a justification for reinforcing the power of the Iranian moderates relative to hardliners. The bottom line is that delisting is likely to achieve the following goals:
•    Reinforce President Bush’s promise that America stands with the people of Iran in their struggle to liberate themselves and send a strong message to the Iranian people that America is on their side.
•    Serve notice to the clerical rulers that a new option is implicitly on the table—regime change—and that America is not limited to failing diplomatic or infeasible military options.
•    Shift the posture of the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad leadership from an offensive mode to a defensive one: The Iranian regime would know that it faces an enabled and determined opposition on its borders.
In short, the need for Iran to cease subversion of Iraq, inability of diplomacy to persuade Tehran to stop such activities, and lack of a credible military option, suggest a policy of empowering the Iranian people to bring about regime change for Iran.
Raymond Tanter, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, is an adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute, researching U.S. policy options toward Iran. From 1981 to 1982, Dr. Tanter served on the National Security Council staff and was personal representative of the secretary of defense to the 1983-1984 arms control talks held in Madrid, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna. Currently, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.