FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why the U.S. Probably Won’t Attack Iran

 

WASHINGTON DC.

Jimmy Carter presented Iran with 52 hostages. George Bush has done a lot better, sending 130,000 Americans across the ocean as guarantees of his administration’s good behavior toward the Islamic Republic. Last week, Tehran reminded us of its ability to make life unpleasant for US forces in Iraq by hosting Moqtada al Sadr for a high profile visit, in the course of which he obligingly pledged that his militia, the Mahdi army, would retaliate for any American attack on Iran. His spokesman quoted him as telling his hosts “If any Islamic state, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran, is attacked, the Mahdi Army would fight inside and outside Iraq.”

This warning should be taken seriously. The Jaish al Mahdi, al Sadr’s militia, has emerged as a formidable force since its formation in 2003. Fifteen months ago, in November 2004, when it was less well trained and equipped than today, this army held off a determined assault by US Marines for three weeks in Najaf.

But Iranian interest and influence in Iran are by no means confined to the radical Shi’ite cleric and his fighters. SCIRI, the principal party in the dominant Shi’ite coalition that triumphed in the Iraqi elections, was after all originally founded and fostered in Iran. Its first leader was Ayatollah Mohammed Shahroodi, presently head of the Iranian judiciary. SCIRI’s military arm, the Badr Army, fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq war, and was long regarded as the direct instrument of Iranian intelligence. Elsewhere, Iranian intelligence can look to such assets as Abu Mehdi al-Mohandis–“the engineer”–resident in Najaf with mentoring responsibilities for Sadr’s militia there.

In the north, in and around the Kurdish enclave, credible sources attest that Iranian intelligence has been providing some measure of support to Sunni insurgents, including the militant Islamic Sunni group Ansar al Islam. Indeed, the dozen or so senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) commanders killed in a plane crash two weeks ago, possibly including Mohammed Sulaimani, the key Guards official involved in Iraqi affairs, were on their way to Oroumieh in north west Iran, the main base for Iranian operations in northern Iraq.

It may seem counter-intuitive for the Shi’ite Iranians to be supporting groups with a militantly anti-Shi’ite agenda, but this same regime sheltered the Afghan fundamentalist Sunni leader Gulbeddin Hekmatyar for many years, despite deep seated mutual antipathy.

Furthermore, power in Iran is diffused. Iraq is a huge prize, and control of this asset, so obligingly proffered to Iran by George Bush when he toppled Saddam Hussein, is inevitably a matter for contention among powerful factions inside the regime. Revolutionary Guards commanders may have a different agenda from that of the “Etalaat”–intelligence services, or the office of Supreme Leader Khamanei, let alone that of the elected President Amahdinejad. Among other imperatives, these various fiefdoms have financial interests at stake in Iraq. Many of the IRGC commanders, for example, are “Moawedun,” meaning they are of Iranian descent but born in Iraq, who have property interests in Iraq.

Following the US invasion, the most influential voice in Iranian policy toward Iraq was that of President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who opted for limited cooperation with the occupiers. Despite alarmist rumors circulating in Baghdad that “One million Iranians had infiltrated into Iraq with fake Iraqi ID cards,” most of the Iranians on view were pacific pilgrims thronging the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala. The consensus in Tehran appeared to be that Iraq should be maintained in what officials called “managed chaos;” both to keep the country weak and discourage a prolonged US occupation while avoiding the wholesale disintegration of Iraq into anarchy.

However, the defeat of Rafsanjani by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the Presidential election and the steadily escalating confrontation with the US over Iran’s nuclear program have changed the rules of the game. Ahmadinejad is close to some of the more radical IRGC leaders, and shows little desire to defer to American sensitivities. His outspoken defiance of the west over the nuclear issue, not to mention his remarks about Israel, have only bolstered his political position at home, while his ability to play the Iraq card should certainly give Washington pause. As a close aide to one of the leaders of SCIRI, which is generally considered less violently radical than Moqtada Sadr’s group, told me recently “If America attacks Iran, then all bets are off.” With such a deterrent at hand, who needs a nuclear weapon?

ANDREW COCKBURN is the co-author, with Patrick Cockburn, of Out of the Ashes: the Resurrection of Saddam Hussein.

 

More articles by:

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

Weekend Edition
April 27, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Saurav Sarkar
Bring Back May Day
Graham Peebles
Crisis of Consciousness: Change and the Individual
Louis Proyect
Racism and Eugenics, American-Style
April 26, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
As Trump Berates Iran, His Options are Limited
Daniel Warner
From May 1968 to May 2018: Politics and Student Strikes
Simone Chun – Kevin Martin
Diplomacy in Korea and the Hope It Inspires
George Wuerthner
The Attack on Wilderness From Environmentalists
CJ Hopkins
The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists
Richard Schuberth
“MeToo” and the Liberation of Sex
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Sacred Assemblies in Baghdad
Dean Baker
Exonerating Bad Economic Policy for Trump’s Win
Vern Loomis
The 17 Gun Salute
Gary Leupp
What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel
Robby Sherwin
The Hat
April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail