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(DV) Sanders: From Tehran, With Love







From Tehran, With Love
by Ken Sanders
August 6, 2005

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Don't be surprised if sometime in the near future, President Bush gets a big balloon-o-gram from Tehran, or perhaps chocolates, thanking him for all of his help in Iraq. After all, what the Iranians had been trying to do for decades, Bush accomplished in only a matter of days: topple Saddam Hussein.

Unfortunately, thanks to the Bush administration's lack of foresight and apparent ignorance of history, Iraq is primed to become another Iranian-style Islamic republic. Who knows? Someday we might just find Iraq resuming its place in the Axis of Evil. Talk about irony.

Iran and Iraq, both predominantly Shiite nations, have already begun to forge alliances. A "new chapter" in Iran-Iraq relations has begun, according to Iran's vice president last month. Indeed, nascent alliances existed between Iranian and Iraqi Shiites long before Saddam fell into disfavor with the U.S. For instance, during Saddam's reign, the largest Iraqi community outside of Iraq settled in Iran. Included in that community were defectors from the Iraqi military who came to be known as the Badr Brigade. The Badr Brigade attacked Iraq from Iran and worked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to crush Iranian guerilla groups aligned with Baghdad in the early days of Iran's Islamic Revolution.

These days, the Badr Brigade is the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), one of Iraq's two extremely powerful Shiite religious parties, and works closely with Iraq's Shiite interior minister in fighting Sunni Arab insurgents. That the Badr Brigade has returned to Iraq doesn't mean Iran and Iraq are no longer working together on security matters, however. On July 7, the defense ministers from both countries signed an agreement to have Iran train Iraq's military.

The two countries' cooperation is not merely limited to military matters. Also in July, the oil ministers of both countries announced that an oil pipeline running from Basra, Iraq to Abadan, Iran would be operational next year. Upon completion of the pipeline, Iran plans on purchasing 150,000 barrels of Iraqi oil. For now, Iran is in charge of constructing and financing the pipeline project.

Also of note, the head of the SCIRI, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, advocates paying Iran billions in reparations for damage resulting from the Iran-Iraq war. In fact, Iraq's Shiite defense minister openly acknowledged that Iraq started the war with Iran (with the blessing of the U.S.), and apologized for war crimes committed against Iran by Saddam's regime. In return for Iraq's apology, Iran pledged $1 billion for Iraq's reconstruction.

In sum, as explained by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari during his historic visit to Iran in July, a bond with Iran is as "inseparable part of Iraq's foreign relations."

That Iraq and Iran have become allied following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, mutual enemy of all Shiite Arabs, is no real surprise. After all, religion and culture often trump boundaries and borders. Indeed, Iran has more than once come to the aid of its Shiite brethren in Iraq. Take, for instance, the aftermath of Bush Sr.'s Iraqi escapades in 1991. Unwilling to do it himself, Bush Sr. urged the Iraqis to rise up and overthrow Saddam. Iraq's Shiites took the bait, only to find themselves hung out to dry by Bush Sr. and the U.S. The result was a slaughter. When Saddam was through quashing the rebellion, three hundred thousand (300,000) Shiites were dead.

Betrayals such as the one committed by Bush Sr. against Iraq's Shiite population are neither easily forgotten nor forgiven. By contrast, Iran provided safe-harbor to Iraqi Shiites who fled Saddam's wrath. Additionally, Iran contributed vast sums of money to outlawed Iraqi dissident groups like the SCIRI and Dakwah Party (now headed by Prime Minister Jafari), to undermine Saddam.

What is surprising about the growing alliance between Iraq and Iran is the Bush administration's apparent failure to anticipate its occurrence. Recall that the Bush administration naively and arrogantly believed that we would be greeted as liberators and that Iraqis would jump at the opportunity to have their country remade in America's image. Had Bush & Co. given even passing thought to the significant ties between the Shiite populations of Iran and Iraq (not to mention the historically inconsistent positions of the U.S. regarding both countries), they might have foreseen this "new chapter" in Iran-Iraq relations.

Think about it: given the choice between Iran (predominantly Shiite, frequent supporter of Iraq's dissident Shiite population, particularly in times of need) and the U.S. (notoriously fickle in its allegiance, probably more interested in Iraq's oil than its people, currently led by the son of the guy who duped Iraq's Shiites into being slaughtered), who do you think Iraq's Shiite majority would more closely align itself with?

Me too.

Ken Sanders is a writer based in Tucson, Arizona. Visit his weblog at:

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