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Washington’s twisted approach towards Tehran

Posted By Ahmed Abdullah 

27/07/07

As U.S. and Iranian diplomats met in Baghdad on Tuesday for a second round of rare face-to-face talks on Iraq, Washington’s stance towards Tehran appeared tougher than just a few months ago, somehow indicating that the Bush administration’s twisted approach towards the Islamic Republic, particularly regarding its role in war-torn Iraq, is working. 

Speaking at a news conference after meeting his Iranian counterpart, only the second direct encounter in almost three decades, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad Ryan Crocker accused Iran of stepping up its support for militia groups in Iraq. "What we have been seeing on the ground over the last couple of months represents an escalation, not a de-escalation," he alleged. 

In response, Iranian ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi dismissed the U.S. allegations, stressing that Washington had no proof of its claims. In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini also denied Ryan’s accusations, saying that the U.S. would be better off finding ways to get out of the Iraq crisis. "These declarations aim to deceive public opinion which is troubled by the U.S.'s warlike policy," he was quoted as saying by the French news agency AFP. 

A 97-0 vote last week in the U.S. Congress indicated the extent to which Washington’s attitude toughened towards Iran. The Senate voted for a resolution drafted by top proponent of war against Iran, Senator Joe Lieberman, stating that "The murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States." The resolution also demanded the Iranian government to "take immediate action" to end all forms of support it is providing to Iraqi “militias and insurgents.” 

That vote followed several months of intensive Bush administration propaganda charging that Iran is arming Shia militias in Iraq, and characterizing Iranian financial support and training for Shia militias as an aggressive effort to target U.S. occupation forces to destabilize Iraq. 

Contrary to Washington’s claims, Iran’s support for Shias in Iraq isn’t aimed at destabilizing the country, but comes as a logical step that Tehran must take in order to strengthen its alliance with all Iraqi Shia factions, according to an article on Asia Times. 

Moreover, the Bush administration narrative ignores the fact that Iran’s primary ties in Iraq have always been with those groups who support the U.S.-backed, Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, including the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and Da'wa Party and their paramilitary arm, the Badr Corps, rather than with anti-government militias. This proves that Iran’s fundamental interest is to see the Iraqi government succeed in the war-torn country, according to Professor Mohsen Milani of Florida International University, a specialist on Iran's national-security policies. 

Like many analysts, Milani agrees that despite all the differences between the United States and Iran, neither country wants the turmoil in Iraq to continue unchecked. This common goal was behind Ryan’s and Kazemi-Qomi’s recent agreement to form a security committee with Iraq to restore order to the war-ravaged country. This alone indicates how confusing the U.S. approach is, as it accuses Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq on one hand, and seeks its help on curbing it on the other.

According to Milani, Tehran’s strategic interests in Iraq are far more compatible with those of Washington than those of the Sunni regimes in the Middle East with whom the U.S. allied itself. "I can't think of two other countries in the region who want the Iraqi government to succeed," he said. 

James A Russell, a lecturer in national-security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a specialist on security affairs in the Gulf region, also believes that the U.S. and Iran do indeed share common strategic interests in Iraq, at least in terms of rational, realist definitions of strategic interest. Russell believes that the history of U.S.-Iran relationship is the main problem that hinders the realization of those strategic interests. Two such obstacles are "the very powerful political constituency for attacking Iran" and the U.S. blind support for Israel, he says. 

Even if Iran backs militias in Iraq, Russell says, this support isn’t aimed at destabilizing the country, but at establishing good relations with every Shia faction in Iraq. "This is a logical step to protect their interests," he said. 

James Dobbins, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and director of the Rand Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center, also agrees that Iran is not trying to destabilize Iraq. "They have been supportive of the government and hope it prevails," he said. As for the growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, Dobbins believes that the “Iranians do not see anything to be gained by Sunni-Shi'a conflict in Iraq". 

Another major point of contention between the U.S. and Iran is the American military presence in Iraq. The Islamic Republic has shown a relatively high level of tolerance for the U.S. occupation in the past but has grown increasingly critical of that presence over the past year. 

Now Iran believes that the U.S. military presence in Iraq is a cause of instability rather than a solution for it. "We believe that sooner or later they have to decide to withdraw their troops from Iraq because that is the cause for the continuation of terrorist activities," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottakiat said at the World Economic Forum in May. 

The changing Iranian stance towards the U.S. military presence may reflect the relative weakening of the Maliki government and the emergence of top Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has brought the demand for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal to the centre of his political strategy in recent months. 

However, some analysts say that Iran still shares the interest of Maliki’s government in having continued U.S. support for the development of Shia security forces. "Tehran is not necessarily in favor of a complete pullout," says Russell. 

The actual degree of convergence between American and Iranian interests on Iraq could still be a key success factor at future meetings between the two countries, despite the determination of still-powerful Vice President Dick Cheney to ensure that such talks fail. 

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