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December 15, 2008

Rice's Claims About Iran
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

So, I've been on vacation for the past two weeks and have come back to see that Condoleezza Rice seems to be making some pretty bold statements about Iranian influence in Iraq.  Statements that really don't seem to be backed up by the facts. First, she claims that the U.S-Iraq Security Agreement was a major setback for the Iranians.

"They're in a much more difficult situation in terms of Iraq," Rice said. "They did everything they could to stop the strategic forces arrangement — they couldn't do it."

The reason the Iranians were so strongly opposed to the agreement was the fear of a permanent U.S. presence in Iraq that would threaten Iran's interests and act as a check on Iranian power.  But the agreement, rather then entrenching the U.S. in Iraq, evolved into a plan for the redeployment of American forces over three years.  The Iranians are not opposed to an American withdrawal and so they are not nearly as disturbed about the deal.  Even that plan couldn't get through Iraq's Parliament without the agreement on a national referendum, which could push the withdrawal date up even further (Matt Duss has more on this). 

Some analysts have also observed that with the election of Barack Obama, who has supported the redeployment of American forces out of Iraq, the Iranians are less worried about a permanent U.S. presence in and have thus become less opposed to the security agreement.

Then there is Rice's claim that the fighting in Basra last spring was a major loss for the Iranian Government.

On Iran, Rice said the clerical regime is finding it harder to operate inside next-door Iraq, and claimed that a turning point was last spring's rout of Iranian-backed forces in the southern city of Basra.

"The Iranians find themselves unable to operate as effectively in Iraq because we've been very aggressive against their agents," Rice said in her farewell interview with AP reporters and editors at the State Department.

In Basra, Rice emphasized, "they flat-out lost."

The problem with this claim is that it assumes that Iran had staked all of its influence in Iraq with the "special groups" fighting in Basra. The reality is much more complicated.  Various elements of the Iranian Government have strong ties with Maliki and specifically ISCI - his most important partners in the Iraqi Government.  In fact, a recent study by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point concluded that supporting these militias was a secondary strategy and that Iran's primary strategy for projecting influence in Iraq is through its political relationships (PDF):

Iran has a robust program to exert influence in Iraq in order to limit American power‐projection capability in the Middle East, ensure the Iraqi government does not pose a threat to Iran, and build a reliable platform for projecting influence further abroad. Iran has two primary modes of influence. First, and most importantly, it projects political influence by leveraging close historical relationships with several Shi’a organizations in Iraq: the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), the Badr organization, and the Dawah political party. Second, Iran uses the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qods Force (QF) to provide aid in the form of paramilitary training, weapons, and equipment to various Iraqi militant groups, including Moqtada al‐Sadr’s Jaysh al‐Mahdi (JAM) and the Special Group Criminals (SGCs)...

The Iraqi government has cracked down on Iranian‐affiliated militias in the last six months. The Iraqi government’s effort does constrain Iran’s ability to employ violence inside Iraq, but it will not prevent Iran from exerting influence through supportive Iraqi politicians.

As Matt Duss wrote earlier today (And I also observed a ways back).  All one needs to do is compare Ahmadinejad's reception in Baghdad to that of President Bush to understand the relative influence of the U.S. and Iran inside Iraq.



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Rice's comments are nothing more than the current effort by the Bush administration to revise history. George Bush has stated to the press that he would not attack Iraq if he knew that there was no WMDs, but this has been contradicted by Ron Suskind and others. Now the administration is trying to make the case that the invasion of Iraq has been a success and that there is no Iranian influence in the government, even though the current Iraqi president used to live in Iran and is in connect with that country's Islamic government.

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