Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 07:18 | SYDNEY
Sunday 22 Jul 2018 | 07:18 | SYDNEY

Iran involvement in Iraq not a one-way street


Raoul Heinrichs

9 April 2008 10:48

It’s been a big day here on Capitol Hill, with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraus testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the situation in Iraq. The briefing provided prospective presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and John McCain with an opportunity to validate their own strategic perspectives on the war. Predictably, Clinton highlighted the practical problems associated with an open-ended military commitment, while McCain sought to capitialise on Petraus’s view that a premature withdrawal would be detrimental to US national security. Barack Obama is scheduled to have his turn soon. 

Beyond the political jockeying, the political and military outlook in Iraq is pretty bleak, and despite some positive developments, the general security situation is, according to Petraus, 'fragile and reversible.'

Perhaps the most interesting (and disturbing) point to come out of today’s testimony is that the dominant threat to both US and coalition forces and to stability in Iraq appears to have changed since Crocker and Petraus appeared before the Congress last September. According to Petraus, the so-called ‘Special Groups’, Iraqi Shiite militias armed, trained and at least partly directed by Iran through its Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah,  now constitute the 'greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq'.

However, while Iran is an extremely important factor in all of this, and is no doubt seeking to use its ties in Iraq to make the US presence ever more painful, it would be a mistake to assume that rising levels of Shiite violence are entirely attributable to Tehran’s grand design for regional hegemony, or that they can be switched off at Tehran’s discretion. Rather, as CSIS strategic analyst Anthony Cordesman points out, the relationship between the Shiite militias and Iran is not unidirectional, but is broadly symbiotic. Recent outbreaks in Shiite violence need to be understood in the context of a broader intra-Shiite power struggle, in which multiple Shiite factions use their Iranian connections as an insurance policy, and as leverage to enhance their own bargaining positions and influence within Iraq.

Photo by Flickr user talkradionews, used under a Creative Commons licence.