Those many pundits and politicians who have insisted on talking about “civil war” in Iraq imagined a sectarian clash, Sunni against Shi’ite, not the recent sort of conflict of radical Shi’ite militias against government troops and police. Meanwhile, on the other side of the sectarian divide, Sunni tribesmen banded together to defeat Sunni terrorists from al Qaeda in Anbar Province, again a seemingly counter-intuitive event. Sunnis and Shi’ites are fighting enemies of their own sects, not one another. What is one to make of it?
A big clue to understanding this apparent mystery came a couple of weeks ago, when rockets were lobbed into the “Green Zone” in Baghdad, where many diplomats, intelligence officers and military leaders (including ours) live and work, along with key Iraqi Government personnel. General Petraeus quickly and explicitly blamed Iran for the attacks. “The rockets that were launched at the Green Zone… were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets…All of this in complete violation of promises made by President Ahmadinejad and the other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts.”
Similar remarks about the nefarious Iranian role in Iraq came from Petraeus’ former deputy, General Raymond Odierno, just two weeks ago in Washington. He wryly observed that Iranian President Ahmadinejad felt secure in Baghdad because the attacks there were under Iranian guidance and control.
The Shi’ite militias and al Qaeda in are also closely tied to Iran. Many of the news reports wrongly suggest that the Shi’ite insurgents are under the leadership of Moqtadah al Sadr, the son of a murdered leading cleric and for several years the chieftain of the private Mahdi Army, named after the Shi’ite Messiah. He and his troops were famously armed, paid and trained by Iran, and were as feared as al Qaeda, whose late leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, long operated out of Tehran and worked closely with Hezbollah’s late chief terrorist, Imad Mughniyah.
All this attention to Moqtadah is at odds with his actual behavior: he long since abandoned the battlefield. Missing from Iraq for many months, he recently resurfaced with the surprising announcement that he had gone to Iran to devote himself to religious. The Iranians had fired him, and they restructured the Mahdi Army into smaller, more autonomous groups. The recent violence came from the new units, headed by Iranian officers, agents, and recruits who, Tehran hoped, are not well known to Coalition and Iraqi military intelligence.
Iran, then, is the common denominator of recent events in Iraq: the mullahs organized the rocket attacks in Baghdad, they have supported al Qaeda in Iraq from the beginning, and they have a major role in the activities of the Shi’ite militias. It is going to be very difficult, indeed virtually impossible, to achieve durable security in Iraq without forcing an end to Iran’s many murderous activities there. That is the bottom line of the events of the past two weeks, and it is very good news that the Iranians were soundly defeated in several cities, from Basra to Baghdad. It is also good news to see that, once it was clear that their proxies were being decimated, they quickly cut and ran. That was evident from Moqtadah’s constant flip-flops in his propaganda on behalf of the mullahs. One day, he was proclaiming an extention of the cease-fire. A few days later, he was calling for armed “resistance.” Barely twenty-four hours afterwards, he was suing for peace. It was also evident from the Iranian regime’s urgent talks with the Iraqi government; Khamenei wanted to pose as a peacemaker, in his usual mafia method of first attacking, then offering security.
The current “peace agreement” is worthless; it will last only until the next time the mullahs feel strong enough to launch another assault. General Petraeus knows that, and he dramatically underlined his conviction that the mullahs will violate any agreement that would prevent new terrorist attacks. He is surely right; the survival of the Tehran regime is threatened by progress in Iraq towards greater tranquility and government accountability to its electorate. The mullahs know that the Iranian people want a free choice, and, if permitted to make that choice, would throw out the current regime in favor of a more tolerant government that would end its support for terrorism throughout the region. No offers from Secretary of State Rice, and no negotiations from this or any future president, can change those realities, and the mullahs are unlikely to honor any agreement that would constitute an admission of defeat in Iraq and threaten their hegemony in Iran.
I think General Petraeus is trying to force the Bush Administration to recognize these hard facts and act accordingly. He is saying that we cannot accomplish our objectives in Iraq without challenging the regime in Tehran. This does not necessarily entail an expansion of the war. I know of no high-ranking military officer or civilian official who favors a military assault on Iran (or on its strategic ally, Syria), and there are many things we can do to make the mullahs and their friends pay a steep price for attacking our people in Iraq and in Afghanistan as well. These range from operations against the terrorist training facilities and assembly plants for rockets and mines in Iran and Syria (acts of legitimate self defense) to active support for the broad-based Iranian democratic movement, which is supported by a big majority of the citizens.
This administration has said many things critical of Iran, but it has never said it wants, and will support, peaceful democratic change. It would be welcome, above all to the Iranian people, if the president and the secretary of state now recognized that the facts on the ground have proven that the Islamic Republic has continued its nearly thirty-year war against us. We should defend ourselves by depriving the terrorists in Iraq of safe havens in Iran and Syria, and we should challenge the mullahs just as we successfully challenged the Soviet commissars: by supporting their own restive people. Playing defense along the borders and inside Iraq, as the excellent Kim Kagan proposes in the Wall Street Journal isn’t good enough; it leaves initiative in the hands of the Iranians, it will cost American and Iraqi lives, and it only prolongs the inevitable. We have to go after the Tehran regime, now more vulnerable than ever, at the same time it draws ever closer to having its atomic weapons.
But there is still no sign that any government in the West is inclined to support the Iranian people. Do they not also see that failure to embrace Iranian dissidents will surely lead to a larger military conflict? They know “diplomacy” has failed. They see that China and Russia will not permit tough sanctions, which in any event would be unlikely to stop either the terror war against us or the atomic project. Can anyone doubt that a nuclear Iran would be even more aggressive? That would leave us to choose, in Sarkozy’s words, between two dreadful alternatives: either accept Iran-with-the-bomb or attack Iran.
Those who argue against support of revolution in Iran think they are favoring peace, but it’s just the opposite. They are making the next chapter of Iran’s thirty years’ war against us, more likely. That chapter will be more violent than anything that has gone before. It may still be avoidable.
UPDATE: Just in case you wanted more proof that recent events have to be seen in the context of Iranian strategy, here’s the latest from al-AP, in which the Iranians “take credit” for their humiliating defeat by appealing to “Shi’ite Unity.” Heh. This from the regime that has slaughtered more Shi’ites than anyone this side of Saddam Hussein…
Here’s the bulletin:
Officials Confirm Iran’s Role in Truce
By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Officials in Iran confirmed for the first time Saturday that the country played an important role in brokering a recent truce between the Iraqi government and anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Iran’s Shiite government helped end the clashes between Iraqi government troops and al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia for the sake of Shiite unity, said a senior Iranian official who deals with Iraq.
“It is in Iran’s best interests to see unity among Shiite factions,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
UPDATE II: Welcome Powerliners, and thanks to Scott for sending you this way. He advances the argument, gives Jack Kelly credit for a great line about who sues for peace and why, and notes that the Washington Post, trying to keep its record as close to perfect as possible…gets it wrong once again by only telling half the story.