Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Iran-Iraq Connection?

There was an interesting talk show -- The Connection -- on NPR tonight (link to audio stream). Dick Gordon hosted the show, entertaining the premise that perhaps the government of Iran is backing the insurgency led by Moqtada al-Sadr. Several callers agreed with this notion, including some who identified themselves as having come from Iran or Iraq. Everyone was careful to say that there is no solid evidence for this, but they seemed to agree that the notion is plausible.

One caller, a gentleman from Iran, mentioned his theory that Iran is worried that they may be the next target of American aggression. Therefore, he reasoned, in would be in their interest to pin down the coalition forces in Iraq. This would effectively prevent an invasion of Iran.

How plausible is this? Recall that the leaders of the USSR, facing President Reagan, felt that there was a significant possibility that the USA could launch a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR. At the time, there was some pretty good evidence that the USSR did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction. The evidence then was stronger than the evidence for WMD's in Iraq. And Iran has publicized their nuclear ambitions. And there is some evidence linking Iran to 9/11. Thus, one could argue, we have more of a reason to invade Iran than we ever had for invading Iraq.

As far as facts go, there aren't very many to be had.  One Iraqi official says there is evidence for a connection; the other says that there is no evidence.  The US State Department says they refuse to rule out the possibility.

Via Command Post, we learn what was reported about this by the Australian Broadcasting Company:

Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari says he has no evidence of Iranian support for an uprising by Shiite militia led by rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Najaf.
“I have not learnt … of any Iranian support, military or otherwise, for Moqtada Sadr… If I find documents (proving) armed support for Sadr, from Iran or any other country, I will say so … and I will consider it a red line,” Mr Jafari told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya television.

Mr Jafari said he believed the crisis in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where heavy fighting is taking place, could be solved politically.

“In my opinion, this question could be resolved politically if it had been raised in a political way,” he said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
The US State Department said on Thursday it also has no conclusive evidence that Sadr has received arms from Iran, but refused to rule out the possibility.

On August 10, State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the US was concerned by suggestions that Iran is involved in deadly unrest in Najaf and maintained it was not in Tehran’s interest to foment instability in its neighbour.

He declined to confirm Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan’s claim that militiamen loyal to Sadr were receiving weapons from Iran.

Iran does not have as much oil, true, but it shares borders with Afghanistan and Iraq, where we already have substantial military assets. Logistically, it would not be difficult. In order for an invasion of Iran to be workable, though, one of three things would have to happen. Either we would have to be able to leave a minimal military presence in Iraq; or we would have to enlarge the military; or we would have to get a larger coalition together. Forget the coalition idea. We have squandered whatever political chips we once had for such an enterprise. We could not enlarge the military sufficiently, unless we gave up on the all-volunteer Army. We would have to reinstate the draft.

A military draft is highly unlikely, unless there are more major terrorist attacks AND if a skeptical American public could be convinced that we really know who was behind the attacks. Since that is not likely, all Iran really has to worry about is the possibility that our forces could quell the disturbance in Iraq.

Viewed in that light, it would make sense for Iran to incite smoldering violence in Iraq. Oh, and remember that Iran has a history of trying to influence American elections. It is possible that Jimmy Carter would have one reelection if the American hostages in Iran had been released before the election. In fact, though, they were held until after the election.

Does Iran have any reason to try to influence the next American election? Sure they do. Of course, they are not alone in that respect. Probably every country on the planet -- including the United States of America -- would be better off with a different person in the White House.