OpinionIran in the World PressCan Iran be a partner in Iraq?

Can Iran be a partner in Iraq?

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Iran Focus – Op-Ed
By David Ahmadi
It is anticipated that the Iraqi Study Group, headed by former United States Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, would recommend that the U.S. talk to Iran and Syria as part of a new approach to resolve the security crisis in Iraq. It has also been leaked that the 100-or-so page report would recommend an international conference take place involving all the countries of the region. Iran Focus

Op-Ed

By David Ahmadi

It is anticipated that the Iraqi Study Group, headed by former United States Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton, would recommend that the U.S. talk to Iran and Syria as part of a new approach to resolve the security crisis in Iraq. It has also been leaked that the 100-or-so page report would recommend an international conference take place involving all the countries of the region.

Over the past few weeks, the U.S. press has been abuzz with reports of Washington engaging Tehran and Damascus as a possible change of policy in Iraq. However, there has been very few, if any, specific suggestions or roadmaps showing how engaging Iran and Syria would help.

It is said that Secretary Baker believes, as a matter of principle, in talking to the enemy. No doubt, he is the right man to make this statement. His credentials in diplomacy and negotiations are impeccable. Modern diplomacy, more than any other time, relies on negotiation and the ability of persuasion. There are certainly merits in negotiation and it can not be dismissed outright. But even if that is true, the question remains, is “talking to the enemy” enough to justify engaging with Iran and Syria?

President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley offers a different view. He says dialogue on its own is not a solution, indicating that more than just dialogue is needed for a policy to be considered as a viable solution. He is as much right as Secretary Baker is. So, while both views might be correct in general terms, their applicability can only be tested when they are applied to a specific issue in a specific situation.

No conclusion can be reached for as long as we stick to generalization and not apply either viewpoint to a specific case. There are too many arguments and counter-arguments. The principle of dialogue and “talking to your enemy” has on many occasions saved the world from war and destruction. The cold war is the most striking example. Over fifty years of constant dialogue took place with the former Soviet Union even when conflict seemed almost inevitable.

On the other hand, the Second World War was itself the result of the idea of talking to the enemy and reaching compromise through negotiation. Let’s face it, negotiation is about making compromise. Diplomacy and negotiations are about give and take. It was in this spirit that Neville Chamberlain went to Munich in 1938.

On his return, he said, “My good friends, this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And now I recommend you to go home and sleep quietly in your beds.”

A week later, Chamberlain justified his policy by saying, “We should seek by all means in our power to avoid war, by analyzing possible causes, by trying to remove them, by discussion in a spirit of collaboration and good will. I cannot believe that such a programme would be rejected by the people of this country, even if it does mean the establishment of personal contact with the dictators” (speech, October 6, 1938, House of Commons).

So, both sides have enough historic ammunition to throw at each other in defence of their viewpoints. But, what about this particular case? Can Syria and Iran be partners in bringing peace and stability to Iraq and building a new Middle East? That is the real question.

The answer is no. They can not. Particularly in the case of Iran, recognizing it as a partner in seeking peace and security in Iraq is a recipe for disaster. Such a policy resonates more of the policy of appeasing Hitler than containment in the Cold War era. Those who advocate involving Iran should respond clearly to the following points:

1. Considering that negotiation will only be successful if there is give and take, the U.S. should be very clear in what is prepared to offer Tehran. The Iranian regime has already rejected the package of incentives which includes membership in the World Trade Organization WTO and the lifting of some embargo on Iran etc. Simply but more bluntly put, is the U.S. prepared to accept Iran ruled by the current theocratic regime obtaining a nuclear bomb? It is naïve to say that we negotiate Iraq and not nuclear. When talks starts, all issues will be on the table. It serves no purpose to evade this question. U.S. policy makers have to face the reality that the Iranian mullahs have no interest in nuclear energy. They are not spending this amount of money and resources and taking the country to the brink of confrontation with the international community in order to have nuclear energy. They want the bomb, and given the way they are marching forward with their nuclear projects without any concentrated effort from the international community to stop them, it is only a matter of time before they obtain it.

2. What was the outcome of four years of European negotiation with Iran on the nuclear issue? Short of recognizing Iran’s “right” to obtain a nuclear bomb, the EU made every concession. But it failed. Iranian officials have said that negotiations with Europe came in handy as they were rushing to complete the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran has become more emboldened. It has defied the United Nations Security Council, which adopted Resolution 1696 on July 31 demanding that Tehran suspend all its uranium enrichment activities by August 31.

3. On Iraq, the U.S. – and ordinary Iraqis for that matter – wants Iran to stop its meddling. But what does it intend to give in return? Recognizing Iran’s dominant role in Iraq? If not, why should Iran listen? They have a huge interest in furthering their influence in Iraq. The Iranians have been very clear: “The U.S. must leave Iraq”. This is no rhetoric. Iran has vigorously pursued a policy over the past three and a half years to force the Americans out of Iraq. Aiding banned militias, death squads and other extremist groups is part of the Iranian agenda. Its leaders want a theocratic regime in Iraq, based on their own model and led by their proxies. They have already made considerable advancements in this regard. So, the crux of the matter is whether the U.S. is prepared to hand over Iraq to Iran?

Iran can not be a partner in resolving the Iraqi problem simply because the Iranian regime has no interest in seeing an end to violence in Iraq. Indeed, more violence is the only way to force the Americans out of Iraq. In other words, a secure and stable Iraq is to the detriment of the Iranian regime. It is simply naïve to hope that the mullahs would do something against their own interests. As former U.S. National Security Council staff member Raymond Tanter recently told the television station al-Jazeera, inviting Iran to help stabilizing Iraq is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

What makes it even more dangerous is the fact that the fundamentalists ruling Iran do not play by the West’s rules. They have their own rules. That is why the West’s policy of appeasement of the Iranian regime over the past two decades has been a total failure. A combination of short-term economic interests and a lack of will have prevented the West from confronting the primary source of instability in the region, Tehran’s theocratic rulers.

U.S. policy has gone wrong in Iraq, not because it did not engage in negotiations with Iran but because it did not stop Iran’s meddling In Iraq.

The Iranian regime has always looked at Iraq as the grand prize in its drive to expand its dominance across the Middle East. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein provided Tehran with the golden opportunity to install a puppet fundamentalist government in that country. Former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and current secretary of the State Expediency Council Mohsen Rezai said in November that the U.S. occupation of Iraq had brought the regime more “opportunity”.

In the current political landscape of Iraq, therefore, the strategic choice for the United States in its efforts to eradicate the insurgency, stabilize Iraqi and, ultimately, pave the way for the withdrawal of its troops, is to align itself with those forces in Iraq which oppose Iran’s meddling and its efforts to dominate that country.

In June, some 5.2 million Iraqis signed a declaration which stated that the main dispute in Iraq was between democracy and dictatorship. “The first and most important political alignment in Iraq is between democratic and patriotic forces with their various inclinations and thoughts on the one hand and affiliates of the Iranian regime on the other”, they said.

The declaration, which was backed by numerous Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish groups, urged the Iraqi government and Washington to work to evict the Iranian regime from Iraq and lend support to Iraq-based Iranian dissidents – namely, the Mujahedin-e Khalq.

Here is an idea that U.S. policymakers should consider more seriously.

David Ahmadi is a London-based Middle East analyst

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