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Iran’s uncertain intervention in Iraq

The recent lightning victories of the Sunni extremist group the ISIS in Iraq have surprised many Middle Eastern countries. This includes Iran.

My latest article for Al Monitor looks at the short and long term opportunities and threats for Iran.

Its not as straightforward as some people believe.


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Posted on : Jun 16 2014
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Posted under Middle East |

The Return of Rafsanjani

According to the Tehran based Parsine News Agency, Ayatollah Rafsanjani is preparing to embark next week on a seven day foreign trip. This is the longest foreign trip taken by any senior Iranian official. What is even more interesting is the destination: Iraq.

To read the rest, click here

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Posted on : Feb 24 2009
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Posted under Iran-Foreign Policy |

Is the US willing to accept a Nuclear Iran?

By: Meir Javedanfar


This morning, Haaretz newspaper reported that:

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s administration will offer Israel a nuclear umbrella” against the threat of a nuclear attack by Iran, a well-placed American source said earlier this week. The source, who is close to the new administration, said the U.S. will declare that an attack on Israel by Tehran would result in a devastating U.S. nuclear response against Iran”.

The article goes to address one of Jerusalem’s major concerns which is “Granting Israel a nuclear guarantee essentially suggests the U.S. is willing to come to terms with a nuclear Iran”.

This is not necessarily true. The US is still committed to using diplomacy and sanctions in its efforts to stop a nuclear Iran, not only for Israel’s sake, but also for the security of its won interests and allies in the region. What is being suggested here is that contingency plans are in place, for the worst case scenario.

And there is nothing wrong with talking about the possibility of a nuclear Iran, if all else fails. If our scenario planning is worth the paper it’s written on, in fact it must plan for this option. Refusing to talk about this prospect is not by some kind of black magic going to reduce its chances of realization.

Worryingly for Tehran what this report does suggests is that Iran’s nuclear program has managed to bring the US and Israel closer together. It shows that thanks to Ahmadinejad’s posturing, Israel will enjoy the benefits of NATO countries (ie US nuclear umbrella), without Israel having to commit any troops or resources to the alliance.

What it also shows is that the Iranian nuclear program is likely to create problems for Iran and the US to reach a broad understanding, as part of which “the West and Iran that recognizes Tehran’s role in the region and gives it (Iran) the power, the prestige, the influence”, as Mohammad El Baradei suggested in an interview with LA Times this week. Tehran will find America’s increased support for Israel unacceptable, especially since Jerusalem is likely to be protected by America’s nuclear umbrella. This was pointed out in a recent article in Tabnak, a semi official news agency based in Tehran. In an article entitled “Iran and a Grand Bargain with Obama”, one of the preconditions suggested by Dr Ostadyar, an Iranian political expert is that the US reduces its support for Israel, as part of the “Grand Bargain”. Based on what we can see, the opposite of what Tehran wants is happening, and this will be unacceptable to Iranian hard liners.

Sooner or later, with or without nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei should realize that it is sound foreign policy and internal economic stability and cohesion which will determine the success of his administration, and Iran’s ambitions to become a regional power. Iran did not increase its influence in Iraq and Lebanon with a nuclear bomb. Its soft power played a major part. This is what Iran needs more than a bomb. Because even if Tehran does become a nuclear power, as long as it continues its current domestic and foreign policies especially in its relations with the West, it will weaken itself and embolden its rivals. The former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would be a good person to consult. He ruled over a nuclear country, which still lost to India in the Kargil war, and he was removed from power.

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Posted on : Dec 11 2008
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Posted under Iran - Nuclear Program |

Saddam’s Tribal Strategy

By: Meir Javedanfar


One of the most difficult post invasion tasks in Iraq for the US was formation of alliances. This was part of winning the peace strategy, which Washington wanted to implement.

However what it encountered was totally unexpected. Instead of siding with the US, many openly turned against it. This did not only include Sunnis. Even some Shiites, who were liberated from Saddam’s oppression turned their guns against American soldiers.

At that point, many strategists asked: how did Saddam do it? How did he hold a country of such diverse interests and religious beliefs together for so long?

On 28th of October, Aljazeera English ran a two part program, called “People & Power – Saddam’s tribal strategy”. It provides some useful answers.

Part 1

Part 2

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Posted on : Oct 30 2008
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Posted under Iraq |

Iraq: The Optimistic President Talebani

By: Meir Javedanfar


In his meeting with President Bush today, Iraq’s president Jalal Talebani said “I’m glad to tell you Mr President that our relations with our neighbors is improved very well with Turkey, with Syria, with Iran with the Arab countries” . He went on to say “The relation is normal now and we have no problem with any of those countries. In contrary, many many new ambassadors are coming to our country from Arab countries”.

The Iraqi president may be getting ahead of himself. Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are still interested in having a slice of the Iraqi pie. They haven’t given up their ambition to have influence in the country and are willing to work with their local allies to get it.

The only reason why they are sending ambassadors and working with Talebani is that they are becoming concerned about the departure of the US from Iraq. To avoid the country falling apart and into chaos, which would affect them, for now, they are helping the Iraqi central government. Once the US has left and the situation is suitable, all of the aforementioned countries are likely to restart where they left off, using all means possible, political, and military.

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Posted on : Sep 11 2008
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Posted under Iraq |

Iraq: The Awakening Council Has Awakened

By: Meir Javedanfar


One of the biggest security factors, which led to the success of the recent surge in Iraq, was the participation of Sunni Arab fighters, from tribes in places such as the Anbar region. They are known as members of the Awakening Council. These people were former enemies of the US. They took part in many anti-coalition attacks. But they decided to switch sides due to a number of reasons. One was the financial reward which the US started paying them. Many had joined the insurgency because they were former soldiers of the Iraqi army or Baathist members, who were kicked out of the Iraqi army by the new administration. Having no work and blaming the Americans, they saw Al Qaeda insurgents as suitable allies.

More important than that, was what they saw as the invasion of Iraq by the “Iranian enemy.” They saw that by working with the government, many Shiite groups such as Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) were achieving political success by having a bigger say in Iraq’s affairs. So by assisting Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al Maleki’s crackdown against Al Qaeda, they expected to be rewarded politically, by allowing them to have a bigger political say over the country’s affairs. They would then use this to counter the Shiite parties in Iraq, many of whom they see as “agents of Iran“.

The Awakening Council paid a heavy price for turning against Al Qaeda. One example is the assassination of Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, former leader of the council by Al Qaeda in September 2007. This was days after he met with President Bush in the Anbar region.

President Bush is very grateful for the support of the council. It took the heat off his administration, especially as the number of attacks against his forces dropped. So was Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, at least until April this year.

However, in a surprise turn around, Al Maliki is now turning against his former allies, by allowing the Tawfigh party, which is a rival Sunni party to enter the cabinet, instead of people from the Awakening Council.

He has also gone against his promise of integrating all of the Council’s members into the Iraqi army. He is now saying that only 25% will be allowed in. Some believe this is because Maliki believes that Al Qaeda has infiltrated the ranks of the Council members.

This is a huge gamble by the Iraqi Prime Minister. He may have turned against his former allies too soon. He has every right to get rid of militias in his country, and to replace them with a single legitimate security force. But I doubt that he currently has the political and security strength to take such a step so soon after beating the Mahdi Army in Southern Iraq.

Should these members turn their guns against the army again, many in Iraq will find that they have lost their recent gains in politics and security.

Al Maliki may have gambled too much this time.

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Posted on : Aug 31 2008
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Posted under Iraq |

Iraq’s Other Surge

By: Meir Javedanfar


Since the invasion of Iraq by pro US coalition forces, the issue of restoring order has been a priority. Initially, there were not sufficient soldiers to put down the insurgency. However, this situation changed after the arrival of extra US forces, who took part in what became known as the ‘surge‘.

However, the improvement of the situation in Iraq is not only down to application of extra military power. The restoration of Iraq’s energy infrastructure is also responsible for the progress made. In fact, it is a major factor.

Iraq reached a major goal last month. The Iraqi Ministry of Electricity surpassed the power generation levels that it and the Coalition set in 2004 as the benchmark for the sector’s jumpstart. With peak power production in excess of 6,000 megawatts one day last month,
Iraq generated 50% more summer peak electricity than the Saddam regime ever did.”

This excellent article by Ambassador Charles Ries, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq, in Real Clear World, explains more:

Iraq’s Electricity ‘Surge’

Posted on : Aug 27 2008
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Al Sadr To Split His Party Into Two

According to today’s International Herald Tribune, “Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric, said Friday that he would divide his Mahdi army militia in two: one elite unit of fighters and a group that would work on community and religious programs”.

It now seems more than ever that Al Sadr is following the model of Hezbollah. This is a very smart move by the young cleric. It is very possible that he was encouraged to do this while studying to become an Ayatollah in Iran, under Ayatollah Shahroudi.

This move will serve Al Sadr well. Establishing a social network will mean increasing the group’s influence in every day life of Shiites, thus giving Al Sadr more credibility and political leverage. In fact, it is possible that when it comes to services such as health, his social charities will be moe efficient than what the government offers, due to less bureacracy, and the fact that he alone would be in charge of receiving funds and distributing them. This is in contrast to sectarian based squabbles over budget allocation in the Iraqi government.With increasing calls in the US to reduce military and financial aid to Iraq, Al Sadr has chosen the right time to increase his influence.

Nevertheless, he has a long way to go, as according to reports, there are criminals amongst his group who have used the Mahdi army to demand extortion and have made life more difficult for Shiites. However if successful, the Shiites followers of Al Sadr will closely be following the success of the Kurds in northern Iraq, who are leading the country in terms of relative stability and economic progress.

Posted on : Aug 09 2008
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Posted under Iraq |