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Shahin Gobadi: Iran’s role in Iraq

Asking Tehran’s help is like asking the arsonist to help put out the fire


The Orange County Register – Would you ever ask the arsonist to put out the fire? Of course not. But trying to apply this same logic to the Iraqi enigma brings a very different answer from some pundits in Washington these days.

Amid heated debate in search of a viable Iraq solution, there is a growing chorus from supposed foreign-policy "realists" to bring the Iranian regime into negotiations, failing to realize that Iranian regime, facing acute crisis at home, has a direct interest in seeing Iraq in chaos.

Since it took power in 1979, Iran’s clerical regime has coveted its neighbor Iraq. Article 11 of Iran’s constitution stipulates, "All Muslims are one nation, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is duty-bound to rest its general policy on the unity of Islamic nations and undertake efforts to realize the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world."

For many historical reasons, Iraq was the most strategic target. The appetite of Iran’s ayatollahs is no secret: They want to establish a proxy regime in Iraq, which has the world’s second-largest known oil reserves and a majority Shiite population.

Despite the countries’ eight-year war in 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini failed to fulfill his dream of "liberating Jerusalem via Karbala." He died in 1989, but his disciples pursued the dream. Iraqi opposition groups were trained, financed, and nurtured for years, waiting for another opportunity. Even in his political will, Khomeini urged his successors to continue their efforts to foment an Islamic revolution in Iraq.

The 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq provided Tehran’s mullahs the ideal moment. For the first time since Iranian and Iraqi guns fell silent along their 900-mile common border in July 1988, the Iranian theocracy saw a historic opportunity to extend its influence in Iraq.

Months before the fall of Saddam Hussein, the clerics devised a two-pronged strategy under the guidance of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This was despite assurances the Iranian regime’s envoys offered American officials in their secret negotiations – that they would stay away from Iraq.

One part of the mullahs’ strategy was to expand seemingly benign charities, clinics, and health care centers. The other was to spread clandestine armed cells to attack Coalition forces and to be poised to fill the vacuum of power quickly in case the United States left Iraq.

Four Iranian agencies – the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the state radio and television and the clergy network – have been coordinating the meddling in Iraq.

The Qods (Jerusalem) Force is the extraterritorial arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, tasked with implementing the mullahs’ plans in Iraq. Thousands of revolutionary guards crossed into Iraq immediately following the downfall of Saddam. Since then, Tehran has spent billions of dollars in Iraq and has sent thousands of intelligence agents and revolutionary guards. Iranian agents even have infiltrated Iraqi security organs extensively. Tehran finances and organizes terror groups that target intellectuals and anti-fundamentalist figures inside Iraq.

U.S. military sources say Iran has been the main source of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have taken a heavy toll on Coalition forces. Three factories in Iran that are engaged in mass-producing the sophisticated roadside bombs have been identified. In addition, thousands of Shiite clerics have been dispatched from Iranian seminaries to villages and towns in Iraq.

In his last memo on the Iraqi situation to the White House, outgoing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pointed to the growing threat of Iran’s meddling in Iraq. In order to deter Tehran’s growing menace and interference in Iraq he suggested: "Position substantial U.S. forces near the Iranian and Syrian borders to reduce infiltration and, importantly, reduce Iranian influence on the Iraqi government."

Indeed, one of the reasons that Khamenei engineered the "election" of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guards commander, as Iran’s president in 2005 was to step up the regime’s involvement in Iraq with the full cooperation of Iran’s executive branch.

Iran is the main impediment to stability in Iraq. A stable and democratic Iraq would be a nightmare for the clerical regime that is facing a restive population that committed 4,100 protest acts and anti-government demonstrations throughout Iran this year.

If one is looking for a solution to the Iraqi crisis, toughening up on Iranian meddling in Iraq and isolating the Iranian regime is key. Giving Tehran more opportunity to meddle by engaging in futile negotiations with its leaders will only embolden Tehran to pursue its objectives more vigorously.

Philosopher George Santayana wisely said, "Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them."

Inviting Iran to participate in negotiations on the future of Iraq is like inviting the foxes to join the discussion on how the chicken coop should be managed. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to see the fallacy of such an idea.

Shahin Gobadi is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a coalition of Democratic Iranian opposition groups.