Thursday, April 17, 2008

Iran's Dubious Role in Iraq--David Ignatius and Ray Takeyh on PBS News Hour April 16

Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2008 00:20:25 -0400
From: William O. Beeman

David Ignatius of the Washington Post and Ray Takeyh of the Council on
Foreign Relations appeared on the PBS News Hour this evening Wednesday,
April 16) to discuss the allegations that Iran was playing a role in
fomenting violence in Iraq.

Ignatius has been a conduit in recent weeks for U.S. Government thinking
on the Iranian role, and was careful to couch his statements about Iran's
role in terms of U.S. Government pronouncements rather than his own
independent assessment. Ray Takeyh offered some theories as to what Iran
might be doing in Iraq.

What emerged very clearly from this discussion is

1. Everyone believes that Iran is arming some small groups of Shi'ites and
harassing the U.S. military and other groups. I emphasize "believes"
because there is no smoking gun, but a great deal of innuendo and
circumstantial evidence.

2. For lack of any better way to identify the Iranian action, the U.S.
government has started to refer to "special groups" supported by Iran as a
means of creating the impression that there is a Unified Iranian Effort
dedicated to violence in Iraq. Here again, there is no proof that such
organized groups exist, or if they do, what ties they might have to Iran.
When pressed, the government posits that these groups have "some kind of
connection" to Muqtada al-Sadr. Moreover they believe that these groups
are being trained by the Qods force of the Revolutionary Guard. All of
this is utterly theoretical.

3. No one can articulate any plausible motive for the Iranian action
beyond the projections of U.S. fantasies: wanting to create confusion,
oppose the U.S. presence and somehow solidify a Shi'ite majority. It is
unclear how Iran could achieve these goals through the use of such limited
"special groups." A new theory was put forward, namely that Iran may be
trying to repeat the situation in Southern Lebanon that gave rise to
Hezbollah. This is creative thinking, but the situation in Iraq is
completely different, with two well-organized Shi'a factions already vying
for power. Hezbollah essentially arose to fill a vacuum in Lebanon.

4. Both guests were quite clear that the United States is unable to do
anything about the perceived frustrating state of affairs. Some people
like Michael Ledeen hint that the only solution is to attack Iran--a kind
of "Iran delenda est" sort of policy, but even if Iran is doing what it is
accused of, the "Iranian backed actions" as characterized by the
administration can only be seen as are low-level and scattered. It is very
unclear whether attacking Iran in any way would bring a halt to the things
that annoy General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.

What seems evident is that things are not going well in Iraq. There is
internecine conflict in the Shi'a community that threatens the Maliki
government, upon which the U.S. Government is relying. It seems that the
United States does not want to admit its own failures, and so has decided
to blame the disarray on Iran. The White House makes this accusation even
though there is no clear articulation of what Iran could possibly want or
could possibly achieve if it were engaged in the kind of systematic
actions attributed by General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker, and Senator
Joe Lieberman, who, in the Senate hearings spoon-fed White House talking
points to Petraeus and Crocker.


Bill Beeman
University of Minnesota