Page A18 - Commentary
By THOMAS MCINERNEY and PAUL VALLELY
As thankful as we are that Moqtada al-Sadr's rebellion did not end in a bloody and destructive battle for the Imam Ali Grand Mosque in Najaf, our gratitude is tempered by the realization that this rebellion was not an isolated event. Like al-Sadr himself, the Najaf standoff was created by Iran and was only part of Iran's latest effort to destabilize Iraq and achieve strategic dominance in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Iran's strategic ambitions and its prominence in global terror are nothing new. Almost immediately after the mullahs took over, they began exporting their brand of Islamist revolution. In the Levant, they established the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which now controls southern Lebanon, and, over time, turned Syria and the Palestinian Authority into clients. Iranian-directed suicide bombs killed hundreds of Western peacekeepers in Lebanon in 1983 and the U.S. fought an undeclared naval war against Iran in the late 1980s.
Despite the hopes of many governments, the widespread popular unrest and internal power struggles of the late '90s did not result in a more democratic, less aggressive Iran. Instead, the mullahs dropped their masks -- and took off their gloves. In the past year, they purged reformists from parliament and intensified suppression of dissent. They dropped any pretense of adhering to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, issuing apocalyptic warnings about the revenge they would exact should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities, and accelerated their ballistic missile program. Iran is as close as ever to Syria and Palestinian terrorist groups, such as Hamas. Now, Israeli intelligence sources tell us, Iran is preparing its Palestinian proxies to seize power when Yasser Arafat's regime collapses.
In Iraq, Iran aims to replicate its successes in Lebanon. Since Iraq's liberation, Iran has provided weapons, money, and personnel to militant Shia groups -- including al-Sadr's -- with the apparent goal of establishing an Iraqi version of Hezbollah, that, in time, would establish de facto Iranian control over Shia Iraq. Despite his setback in Najaf, al-Sadr almost certainly will continue to do his masters' bidding.
Iran already enjoys -- and exploits -- an excellent geostrategic position and immense oil wealth. If in a few years, Iran possesses nuclear weapons and exerts control over more strategically important territory and even more energy resources, it is likely to flex its muscles in the Gulf States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
It is imperative, therefore, that we immediately and forcefully check Iran, inside and outside of Iraq. The Iraqi interim government should immediately break relations with Tehran, citing Iran's support of anti-government subversion, and secure its borders against Iranian infiltration. The Iranians cynically use religious pilgrimages to move men, materiel, and money into Iraq; therefore, until its security situation improves, Iraq must deny entry to Iranian pilgrims. Iraqi security forces must be strengthened and, if necessary, U.S. forces within Iraq should be repositioned to support them.
Experience in Iraq shows we cannot rely on the U.N. to end Iran's nuclear ambitions. So, although it again would bring us into conflict with Russia, Germany, and France, the U.S. must form a coalition to do so. After declaring a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an intolerable danger to global security and stability, members of this coalition would take the steps necessary to force Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons -- up to and including a complete economic embargo with a naval blockade.
Of course, the best way to end the threat posed by Iran is end the mullahs' rule of Iran. To that end, the U.S. and other countries also must revive democratic opposition groups in Iran through both overt aid and covert support. We also should create the nucleus of an armed resistance movement by removing the Iranian exile group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq from the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. That group is "the most organized, disciplined, and popular opposition movement in Iran," according to Iranian expert Alireza Jafarzadeh. It's time to rearm its 4,000 trained fighters.
We understand these suggestions will strike some as too strong. Considering, however, that Iran is poised to make a play for regional dominance, our countermove must be the strongest we have ever made in our 25-year cold war with Iran. Iraq's success is dependent on it.
Lt. Gen. McInerney and Maj. Gen. Vallely, retired from the U.S. Air Force and Army, respectively, are military analysts for Fox News and co-authors of "Endgame: The Blueprint for Victory in the War on Terror" (Regnery, 2004).