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Iran, the United States and Potential Iraq Deal-Spoilers
« on: 2007-05-31 03:42:20 »
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[Blunderov] Realpolitik from Stratfor.com

Bottom line: USA is on the horns of a dilemma. It hates Iran but has to make nice. (It's lovely to see how this burns Cheney's ring so much that it makes his eyes water.)

Iran, the United States and Potential Iraq Deal-Spoilers
By Reva Bhalla

After 27 years of frozen relations, the United States and Iran held their first high-level direct talks in Baghdad on May 28 to negotiate a plan on how to stabilize Iraq. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, traded accusations about who was the bigger destabilizing force in Iraq. But by the end of the four-hour meeting, both described the negotiations as a positive first step in bringing the two sides together to stabilize Iraq. Kazemi-Qomi even said there probably would be a follow-up meeting within a month if he gets the OK from Tehran.

Iran and the United States evidently have come a long way since the spring of 2003, when Washington double-crossed Tehran on the two countries' original understanding that a pro-Iranian, Shiite-dominated Iraq would be allowed to emerge in exchange for Iran's help in effecting regime change in Baghdad. When the United States removed two hostile Sunni regimes from Iran's border -- the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq -- the Iranians knew they had to check the United States on the regional chessboard so Washington understood any U.S. exit strategy from Iraq would have to come through Tehran. Only then, Tehran reasoned, could Iran use Iraq as a launchpad to extend Iranian influence in the Arab world.

Feeling a deep sense of betrayal, the Iranian government carried out a variety of deadly maneuvers that ultimately convinced Washington that neither the Iranians nor the Americans were going to succeed in gluing Iraq back together on their own. The negotiations are still marred by mutual distrust, but after four years of explosive negotiating tactics, Iran and the United States have reached a point at which both sides have acknowledged they cannot afford to avoid each other if they want to avoid their worst-case scenarios in Iraq.

As the negotiations grow in intensity, so does the noise. The lead-up to the May 28 talks was punctuated by a series of interesting jabs as each side sought leverage against the other. While the United States sent nine warships with 17,000 troops into the Persian Gulf (which the U.S. military deliberately referred to as the Arabian Gulf in the official press release on the naval exercises) and stepped up threats of broadening sanctions against Tehran due to the latter's nuclear activities, Iran continued broadcasting its atomic advances and announced it had uncovered Western-run spy rings inside the Islamic republic. The United States is still holding onto five Iranian officials arrested in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil in January as bargaining chips in talks with Iran. Iran has responded with a series of arrests of Iranian-Americans affiliated with think tanks on allegations they are dissidents working to topple the clerical regime. These belligerent tactics are all part of the game, and will flare up even further as the negotiations grow more serious.

The Meat of the Matter

It now becomes all the more critical to cut to the meat of these talks: the negotiating terms put forth by Washington and Tehran over how each plans to fix Iraq.

Iran handed over a proposal to Crocker during a brief encounter at the May 5-6 Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt, but also chose to unofficially publicize its terms for Iraq through the Saudi-owned, British-based daily Al Hayat. The Iranian Foreign Ministry likely chose Al Hayat, a major Arab news outlet, to make a back-channel broadcast of what concessions it is prepared to make to allay Sunni concerns in the region.

In sum, this Iranian proposal called for a non-rushed withdrawal and relocation of U.S. troops to bases inside Iraq, a rejection of all attempts to partition Iraq, a commitment by the Sunni bloc to root out the jihadists and acknowledgement by Washington that the Iranian nuclear file cannot be uncoupled from the Iraq negotiations. In return, Iran would rein in the armed Shiite militias, revise the de-Baathification law and Iraqi Constitution to double Sunni political representation, create a policy to allow for the fair distribution of oil revenues (particularly to the Sunnis) and use its regional influence to quell crises in areas such as Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian territories.

The terms put forth by the Iranians are so close to the U.S. position on Iraq that, with little exception, they could have been printed on State Department stationary and no one would have noticed the difference. If these are the terms Washington and Tehran are in fact discussing, then we are witnessing an extraordinary turn in the Iraq war in which the U.S. and Iranian blueprints for Iraq are finally aligning. It does not surprise us, then, that Crocker said after his meeting in Baghdad that the Iranian position "was very close to our own" at the level of policy and principle.

The Spoilers

The prospect of Washington and Tehran warming up to each other, and of the United States potentially regaining its military bandwidth in the not-too-distant future, is enough to put a number of serious actors into a frenzy. With the exception of the jihadists, most of the actors in question see an Iranian-U.S. accommodation over Iraq as inevitable, and have little choice but to strive to shape what would otherwise be an imposed reality in the coming months -- leaving substantial room for error in these negotiations. The Iraqi Sunnis and Arab states, in particular, will not necessarily sabotage the talks, but they will be working to secure Sunni interests and contain the extent to which Iran emerges as the primary beneficiary of any deal it works out with the United States over Iraq.

Jihadists

Within Iraq, the transnational jihadists have the most immediate concerns. A political settlement in Baghdad inevitably would involve a concerted effort by Iraq's Shia and mainstream Sunnis to uproot the jihadists and deprive them of the chaotic security conditions needed for their operations. The apex leadership of al Qaeda hiding out along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is also betting on continued bedlam in Iraq to keep the transnational jihadist movement alive, and will not be happy to see U.S. forces beefed up in the South Asia theater once a deal is sealed in Iraq. Violence aimed at heightening sectarian tensions to derail the negotiations -- particularly attacks aimed at inflaming the Shia -- will escalate substantially over the next few weeks and months in Iraq. High-value political targets also likely will be targeted for assassination in an effort to disrupt the leadership structure of the respective factions.

Iraqi Shia

The Iranians face a daunting task in whipping Iraq's Shiite bloc into shape to follow through with Tehran's commitment to quell sectarian attacks and consolidate Shiite political power in Iraq for the first time in the country's history. Factionalism is already hardwired into the structure of the Iraqi Shiite community, whose loyalties are spread among the three largest political groups -- the (newly named) Iraqi Islamic Supreme Council, Hizb al-Dawah and the al-Sadrite bloc, as well as a number of smaller Shiite groups in southern Iraq, such as the Fadhila party. The intra-Shiite rivalries within and between these groups are enough to give anyone a headache, but Iran is well aware that violence and a good deal of oil money will be needed to bring the Iraqi Shia in line and make these negotiations work. Though the main political groups are more comfortable with the idea of working with Iran, Tehran has to play its cards carefully to ensure it does not trigger nationalist Arab sentiment among the Shiite actors, who already are deeply suspicious of Iran's intentions and have the arms and access to Iraq's southern oil fields to use as tools for stirring up trouble.

Iraqi Sunnis

Though not nearly as fractured as the Iraqi Shia, the Sunni landscape in Iraq has plenty of cracks of its own to make these negotiations troublesome. The Sunni factions in play include:

The existing political blocs, divided between the Islamist Iraqi Accord Front and the secular-leaning Iraqi National Dialogue Front;

The tribal groups, such as Anbar Salvation Council, that are actively fighting transnational jihadists to get a seat at the negotiating table;

The Sunni religious establishment, led by the hard-line Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq that has close links with the insurgent groups and has become increasingly anti-Iranian in recent weeks;

The Sunni nationalist insurgents, who are looking for an acceptable opening into the political process, but remain distrustful of Shiite intentions.

The Iraqi Sunnis know they have to drive a hard bargain in these talks to ensure that Iraq's Sunnis are well-integrated in the state political and security apparatus to counter the Shiite majority. And they will continue to rely on explosives during the talks to make sure their demands are heard. Competing factions within the Sunni bloc and resistance from their former jihadist allies will only further complicate these negotiations, but unlike the jihadists, these Sunni groups are not opposed in principle to a deal that includes the Iranians -- they actually want negotiations.

Iraqi Kurds

By the looks of the Iranian proposal, the Kurds have plenty to worry about. Expanding Sunni political representation and changing the constitution to allow for a more "fair" distribution of oil resources leaves the Kurdish bloc in an all-too-familiar scenario in which Kurdish interests will be sacrificed by the United States to protect the interests of Iraq's neighbors.

Thus far, the Kurds have used the distraction of Sunni-Shiite bloodletting farther south to consolidate power between the two main rival Kurdish blocs (an extremely rare occurrence) and push forward with Kurdish autonomous demands to open Iraq's northern oil fields to foreign business. Once Iraq's Shiite and Sunni blocs reach some level of a political understanding in Baghdad, their attention will soon turn to their common adversary in the north, leaving the Kurds to face familiar moves by the Iraqi government to suppress Kurdish autonomy. The Kurds will need to drive a hard bargain by pushing through a Kirkuk referendum by year's end and resisting radical changes to the constitution and pending hydrocarbons legislation that threaten to put Iraq's undeveloped fields in the north under state control. The biggest threats the Kurds could make to a U.S.-Iranian deal over Iraq would involve withdrawing Kurdish support for U.S. forces or threatening to pull out of the government. But in the end, a compromise looks inevitable simply because the Kurds have nowhere else to turn.

Ultraconservatives in Washington and Tehran

There are ultraconservative factions in both Tehran and Washington that are not nearly as enthused about a U.S.-Iran rapprochement, and could use their influence to complicate the negotiations. Rumor has it that in Iran there are major disagreements brewing between the president and other senior Iranian officials, particularly on foreign policy matters. There are also growing indications that the apex of the clerical establishment is making moves to sideline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and weaken the influence of his ultraconservative faction as a preventative measure to ensure progress in these talks. Though Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has thus far managed the deep divisions within the Iranian establishment between the ultraconservative and pragmatic conservative factions, his ability to contain these divisions is held hostage by his failing health.

Meanwhile, hard-line elements in Washington are actively spreading information in an allegedly covert campaign signed off on by U.S. President George W. Bush to topple the clerical regime. These actors are more interested in effecting a policy of regime change rather than in a rapprochement with Iran, and they view the negotiations as little more than a smoke screen for a covert campaign to rid the Islamic republic of its ruling ayatollahs. These rumors threaten to fuel even more distrust between the two sides while the negotiations are in full swing, especially as Iran's greatest fear is that it will end up being backstabbed all over again once Washington recovers from Iraq and has enough bandwidth to entertain military options.

Sunni Regional Powers

Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are extraordinarily nervous about the idea of having the United States and Iran conduct exclusive meetings over a matter that directly concerns their national security interests. As the leader of the Sunni Arabs, the Saudis believe they have every right to be part of the formal negotiating process, but they also see the inevitability of the United States and Iran working toward an Iraq settlement. With the most at stake, the Saudi government normally would be screeching in protest during these U.S.-Iranian bilateral meetings, but instead it is keeping quiet. For now, the Saudis have to rely on the United States to ensure their demands for Sunni representation and Iranian containment are heard.

Meanwhile, the Iranians evidently are working to allay Sunni Arab fears by publicizing Tehran's Iraq proposal (with considerable concessions to Iraq's Sunnis) in the mainstream Arab press and stepping up diplomatic engagements with Iran's Sunni neighbors in the Gulf. But the more the Iranians speak of arming and training the Iraqi army, the more the Saudis have to worry about. The House of Saud does not want to be looking at a scenario down the road in which U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraq while Iran uses its militant proxies there to create an excuse to intervene militarily, putting Iranian troops within sight of Saudi Arabia's oil- and Shiite-rich Eastern province. The Saudis are also not looking forward to the day when war-hardened Saudi jihadist veterans in Iraq return home to wage attacks in the kingdom. Though the Saudis might see an Iran-U.S. deal as inevitable, they will keep their ties to the full spectrum of Sunni militants to use as their main deal-breaker should an Iraq settlement fail to address their interests.

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al Assad also probably is lying awake at night over these U.S.-Iran talks. The Alawite-Baathist regime in Syria loved the idea of its allies in Tehran expanding Shiite influence while the United States remained far too militarily occupied in Iraq to bother with Syria. The insurgency in Iraq also provided Syria with a vital pressure release valve for Sunni militants in the country. Like Riyadh, the regime in Damascus does not want to see jihadists returning home from Iraq to carry out attacks on native soil.

Despite these concerns, the Syrians are hoping their alliance with Tehran will pay off and result in serious recognition and security assurances from the United States. For this to happen, Syria has to prove it is an integral piece of this Iraq deal by showing it possesses the ability to clamp down on insurgent traffic (by funneling jihadists into Lebanon for now). While Syria offers limited cooperation over Iraq to show its powers, the al Assad regime will become further emboldened to secure its interests in Lebanon, where Syria's priorities are rooted.

Russia

But the player with perhaps the most to lose is not even located in the Middle East. That player is Russia. At first glance, Russia is an odd party to even be involved in the Iraqi imbroglio. It has no troops in country and, no matter what happens to Iraq in the long run, Baghdad has no impact on anything Russian. Certainly Moscow was friendly with the previous government, but not to the degree that Saddam Hussein's fall appreciably impacted Russian political or economic interests.

Russia does, however, have two horses in this race.

The first relates to the Iranian nuclear program, which lists the Russian-built Bushehr power plant as its crown jewel. Despite Iranian protestations to the contrary, Tehran's nuclear program is largely a result of Russian technology sharing. And, should the Russians walk away, the Iranian program will have suffered a monumental setback. Similarly, so long as Russia has not finished the reactor at Bushehr, the West cannot ignore Moscow's ability to function as an interlocutor in Tehran. So long as the facility is "under construction," Russia has leverage over both parties. As soon as Russia's technicians finish, however, that leverage evaporates.

Second, and far more important: So long as the bulk of the United States' and Iran's political and military attention is absorbed in Iraq, neither has any bandwidth to deal with other issues. Iran has deep and lasting interests in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- states of critical interest to Moscow -- yet Iran's preoccupation with Iraq has prevented Tehran from capitalizing on recent opportunities. Similarly, the United States has faced no foe more challenging than the Soviet Union and its Russian successor. In that vein, there is no country more desirous of challenging Russia's ongoing efforts to rewire European security arrangements in its own favor than the United States. But that requires a Washington not consumed by the black hole Iraq has become.

A Rough Road Ahead

It took four years of heavy-handed negotiating tactics to bring U.S.-Iranian dealings over Iraq out of the back channels and into the public view.

That was half the battle.

The aligning of the U.S. and Iranian proposals for Iraq marks a significant inflection point in the war, but we still question whether the three big players negotiating this deal -- Washington, Tehran and Riyadh -- can trust each other enough and carry enough sway among Iraq's state actors to get them to cooperate and actually produce results on the ground. Once you throw the spoilers into this equation, along with a centuries-old Arab-Persian rivalry centered on containing the very rise that Iran is anticipating this deal will yield, the prospect of a U.S.-Iranian accommodation over Iraq coming to fruition does not look so good. Our hopes are not completely dashed, but we do see a bumpy road ahead.
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Re:Iran, the United States and Potential Iraq Deal-Spoilers
« Reply #1 on: 2007-05-31 08:43:01 »
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Exit From Iraq Should Be Through Iran
Linking forces with Iran could minimize the costs of withdrawal from Iraq

[Hermit: As is not unusual, a nice article from Stratfor. It ties in with the perspective of General Odom, who, although I disagree with him on many issues, I regard as Americas most competent strategic thinker, even if he has now been sidelined. Telling use of the same phrase in his title as in the article you posted, which I think may be a logical successor.]

The US Congress and the White House have been at odds over the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq for months, but brief historical reflection suggests that the only option left for Washington is to link forces with Iran. Starting in the mid-1950s, the US maintained stability in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf by establishing bilateral relationships with Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and preventing any one country from overwhelming another. Even after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, presidents recognized that restoring ties with Tehran could minimize US military costs. George W. Bush, however, disrupted the delicate balance with the invasion of Iraq. Unless the US can convince Iran to play a cooperative role, the chaos in Iraq will spread to neighboring countries. In this article, William Odom, a former director of the US National Security Agency, contends that a rapprochement with Iran is the key to restoring regional stability as the US withdraws from Iraq. However, the US must follow up on Monday’s meeting with Iran in Baghdad and abandon its current “all sticks” policy for stopping Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program. Iran cannot help but realize that its influence in Iraq faces limits when US troops leave, and Washington must take advantage of many mutual goals to establish a sustainable relationship with Iran and restore stability throughout the Middle East. – YaleGlobal

Source: yaleglobal
Authors: William E. Odom
Dated: 2007-05-29
Datelined: Washington

Lieutenant General William E. Odom (Retired), US Army, is a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University. He was director of the National Security Agency from 1985 to 1988, and his most recent book, “America’s Inadvertent Empire,” co-authored with Robert Dujarric, was published in 2004 by Yale University Press.

Increasingly bogged down in the sands of Iraq, the US thrashes about looking for an honorable exit. Restoring cooperation between Washington and Tehran is the single most important step that could be taken to rescue the US from its predicament in Iraq. Understanding why requires some historical reflection.

Since the mid-1950s, US policy in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region was implicitly based on three pillars – Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. As the British withdrew, Washington established nervous but lasting ties with Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the US built strong relations with the shah of Iran. After 1948, when it recognized the new state of Israel, the US slowly became a guarantor of that new state's survival. London's role in the entire region became marginal, especially after the Suez crisis in 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower abruptly stopped the joint British-Israeli military operation to seize the Suez Canal.

Thus by preventing any of the three camps from overrunning the other, the US provided regional stability.

Whether American leaders employed this strategy by design or by trial and error is arguable. At the time, they were more concerned with the Soviet challenge, trying to organize the so-called "northern tier," i.e., with Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, as a barrier to Soviet influence. They probably did not foresee they had undertaken an equally demanding task of sublimating two major intra-regional quarrels, virtually irresolvable ones.

Although the Arab-Israel quarrel is well known, the Persian-Arab quarrel is poorly understood. Iran has long made claims on territories on the Arab side of the Gulf and especially with Iraq over the Shatt-al-Arab waterway at the mouth of the Tigris River. The Sunni-Shiite religious fissure reinforces Persian-Arab animosities, but no less important is the old sense of cultural superiority among the Iranians toward the Arabs.

By keeping strong diplomatic ties in all three camps, the US maintained regional stability with limited military power.

Unfortunately, this strategy collapsed with the fall of the shah in Iran in 1979. President Jimmy Carter confronted a dilemma: either to abandon the Persian Gulf region, where the Soviet Union was trying to exert more influence, or to restore the old balance by projecting considerable US military power into the region. He chose the latter, what was known as the Carter Doctrine after Soviet forces intervened in Afghanistan. The US Central Command, although it was only one aspect of Carter’s “Persian Gulf Security Framework,” became its most visible part. Started in the spring of 1979, it became operational in early 1981.

As a planner on the National Security Council (NSC) staff at the time, I soon realized that restoring ties with Iran, whether in a year or two, or a decade, or much longer, had to be the US goal. Only thus could the US lower its military costs. Moreover, Iran shared strong interests with the US that its revolutionary fervor had obscured. President Carter understood this. So did President Ronald Reagan, although his NSC staff’s attempts to re-establish informal ties were ill-designed and clumsily executed.

All subsequent presidents understood it until George W. Bush. By placing Iran on the "axis of evil" list, threatening to change its regime, he abandoned this strategy outright. Had he not done so, he might have secured tacit Iranian support for his invasion of Iraq, given Tehran's desire for revenge against Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in 1980.

Meetings just started between US and Iranian envoys could reestablish the basis for regional stability that existed until 1979 and may be the best hope for containing the chaos that the US invasion of Iraq is unleashing. Unless the US convinces Iran to play a cooperative role, the conflict will spread. Indeed, fear of sectarian violence spreading is why the Saudi leadership, usually supportive of Washington, recently called the US occupation of Iraq illegal.

Thus the US footing in the Arab camp has been eroding. If that continues, the cost in increased US military power to maintain Israel’s ultimate security will soon be beyond US means. A rapprochement with Iran, therefore, is the key to restoring regional stability as the US withdraws from Iraq.


Can it be reached? Yes, if the US is willing to pay the price of dropping its "all sticks" policy for stopping Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Put plainly, the US has two choices: It can have an Iran with nuclear weapons that refuses to cooperate on many shared interests. Or it can have an Iran with nuclear weapons that is willing to cooperate.

Tehran has as much interest in stability in both Iraq and Afghanistan as does Washington. Both oppose Al Qaeda. Iran needs US oil-production technology. Greater Iranian oil and gas production benefits the US. Iran's ties with Russia are without historical precedent and strained. The US could offer more and better technologies than Russia provides Iran. Iran's record for spreading radical Islamic political movements is more limited than is generally realized. In fact, beyond Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a few terrorist groups trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and directed toward Israel and Iranian émigrés in Europe, it has behaved conservatively, especially in Central Asia and the Muslim parts of the Caucasus.

Iran was hostile to the Taliban in Afghanistan. And it does not like the radical brands of Islam that Pakistan sponsors with Arab money in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Iran realizes that although its influence in Iraq has increased immensely, it faces limits. Once US forces leave Iraq, even Shiite Iraqis will view Persians with suspicion. Moreover, Iran – like Turkey, Iraq and Syria – does not want an independent Kurdish state. US cooperation will be required to prevent that.

Only nuclear weapons and Hezbollah remain obstacles to US-Iranian tacit cooperation. And Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons if it is determined to do so, although not in less than a decade. The nation is less likely to go all the way to exploding a nuclear device if it has good ties with Washington than if it does not. Improved relations with the US will inexorably reduce Iranian hostile policies toward Israel.

Iran can’t help but observe the examples that the US has set with India's and Pakistan's nuclear-weapons programs. After opposing both for years, Washington essentially embraced both countries once they acquired nuclear weapons. The lesson for both Iran and North Korea is simple: acquire nuclear weapons and the US will not only stop threatening "regime change," but will also seek good relations.

Effectively the US has demolished the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Iran might settle for a security guarantee against an Israeli nuclear strike, but its fears of Pakistani nuclear capability are probably more acute – especially as Al Qaeda, hiding in Pakistan, is dedicated to the destruction of Iran's Shiite-controlled regime and openly calls on the US to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities.

Once this is understood, the makings of a deal are straightforward. The matter of Israel and Hezbollah can probably be sublimated if Washington preemptively drops the nuclear issue, along with its threat to change the regime in Iran.

The old "double-straddle" strategy may once more be feasible, and most parties in the region will be the beneficiaries, allowing the US to begin the long road back to restoring its credibility as a regional balancer. The US has no better way out of the cul-de-sac in Iraq. And even then, the US needs European and Asian allies to help.

« Last Edit: 2007-05-31 08:59:15 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

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