Aug 6, 2007
After a second round of negotiations with Iranian diplomats in Baghdad, the Bush administration announced that the two countries had agreed to set up a trilateral “security” committee together with the Iraqi government. It will be the first time the U.S. government has had such sustained formal contacts with Iran since the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations almost three decades ago.
In a certain way, it was an admission of weakness by the U.S. – weakness that Ryan Crocker, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, tried to cover up with the usual bellicose rhetoric against Iran. He let it be known he had “heatedly” told off Iranian diplomats about their “meddling” in Iraq. “The fact is, and we made it very clear in today’s talks, that over the roughly two months we have actually seen militia-related activities that can be attributed to Iranian support go up and not down,” said Crocker.
In fact, all attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq have gone up. According to the Defense Department’s own statistics, in June the number of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, civilians and infrastructure averaged almost 178 per day, which surpassed a previous daily peak of 177 attacks in October 2006, and made June's daily total the highest since Bush declared major combat operations at an end in May 2003. And while attacks in July went down, which they have done every year in July, they were higher than any previous July.
In other words, the famous “surge” of U.S. troops has not brought stability, it has only provoked more attacks and instability, thus tying down more and more U.S. troops, threatening to spread and destabilize other U.S.-backed regimes in the region.
After more than four years of an ever worsening war, the Bush administration has been forced to look to the Iranian regime to help stabilize the situation for the U.S. in Iraq.
The U.S. and Iranian governments already share many ties in Iraq. The main parties that make up the government headed by Nouri al Maliki, which the U.S. supports, the SCIRI and Dawa parties, as well as their paramilitary wing, the Badr Brigade, have historical ties with the Iranian power structure. So do the U.S.’s Kurdish allies, led by Iraqi President Jalaal Talibani. Talibani backed the Iranian government against the Iraqi government during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
The Iranian regime has long wanted to normalize its relations with the U.S., up to and including getting full diplomatic recognition from the U.S. and an end to the U.S. sanctions. But the current mess in Iraq has finally forced the U.S. to openly deal with Iran.
Iran has benefitted from the weakening position of the U.S. in Iraq to build on its ties with Iraq’s political leaders. Iran was one of the first countries to sign a “friendship treaty” with Iraq’s parliament. Trade between Iraq and Iran has increased in the past year to one billion dollars, with half accounted for in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Iran just finalized a one billion dollar loan deal with Iraq tied to specific investments. Iran just gave Prime Minister Maliki an Airbus 300 jetliner to use for government business.
If Iran comes out of the Iraq War strengthened, this could be a problem for the U.S. and its client states in the region, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.
This explains the contradictory stance of the U.S. toward Iran: on the one hand, the U.S. opens up negotiations and explores further collaboration with Iran; on the other, it continues to pressure the Iranian regime. It uses economic sanctions, U.N. inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, logistical and financial support of attacks by guerrilla groups operating inside Iran, as well as the U.S. beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf and periodic threats to bomb the country. And Saudi Arabia, the U.S. client state, has already beefed up its own presence in Iraq, flooding in intelligence agents, fighters and suicide bombers, according to recent reports in both the L.A. Times and New York Times.
Expect protracted negotiations, mixed with threats up to and including war, to continue.
In the long run, all the people of the Middle East can only be harmed by these deals, just as they are harmed by the war today.