Courtesy of Christopher Strub
With the complete withdraw of U.S. forces in Iraq by the presidentially-mandated date of Dec. 31, 2011, U.S. ability to exert any tangible influence is gone from a region that is not only hostile to U.S. national interests, but also loudly outspoken in its efforts to rid the U.S. of its primary ally in the region, Israel. What will the withdrawal of U.S. forces have on regional stability? Let’s look specifically at Iranian involvement in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 economically, politically and in terms of the insurgency.
Since the fall of Hussein, Iranian economic influence has grown decisively in a country where economic freedom is no longer dictated by the whims of rapacious dictator. First, trade alone has grown exponentially since 2003 which at the time accounted for a mere $800 million, but is now in the neighborhood of $15 billion which is nearly 1 1/2 times the U.S. value of trade to Iraq. This figure does not account for a new $10 billion pipeline originating in southern Iraq and terminating at the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon in a deal signed with Syria and Iran earlier this year.
Second, since 2003 nearly 100 trade memorandums have been signed between the two countries in an effort that from the outside looks positive, yet Major General Michael Oates asserts a different perspective in that “the influx of Iranian goods and labor was undermining economic recovery effort.”
Experts have debated the role of Iran within the Iraq insurgency for some time, yet forensic evidence released by the U.S. military in early 2009 following a raid that discovered a cache of Iranian weapons in Iraq provided at least a taste of the weapons that insurgents are using against U.S. forces.
As well, the evidence of Iranian agents, originating from their special Quds forces whose sole reason for existence has been described as outsourcing Islamic revolution around the world, has been detected and even led former President George W. Bush to grant a “kill or capture” order.
Though U.S. officials will not go so far as to say that Iranian agents are physically targeting U.S. troops they are gathering evidence that Iranian agents are at least providing weapons and training to Iraqi insurgents. Politically, Iran has attempted during Iraq’s last two elections to sway the voters to more pro-Iran candidates, yet have failed thus far. Though most of Iraq’s politicians once spent time in exile in Iran, they have found that Iraqi, and Arab, nationalism still play a major role in the voting populous’ decisions. Thus, overtly pro-Iranian and Iranian backed candidates did not fare well in the May 2010 elections.
Though this recent failure has been posited by experts as due not only to the role of Iranian-backed politicians, but also the split amongst Shiites in support of Prime Minister al-Maliki. In any event, though Iran has failed thus far on the political front to exert influence in Iraq its patience for U.S. forces to leave and for the next series of elections will prove its greatest strength.
So with the growth of Iranian influence in Iraq the question must be asked, what is their endgame? Salameh Nematt of the Al-Hayat newspaper tends to believe that while the Iranians are not naïve enough to believe that they can create a puppet government, they are patiently awaiting the withdrawal U.S. troops in the belief that the Iraqi government will then be “more willing to cooperate on matters that serve Iran’s regional policies and Iran’s regional domination.” Though, is the U.S. not playing into Iran’s hands regardless?
Iran needs a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq to assert influence in a struggling democracy. Prior to a set and firm date of withdrawal on Dec. 31, of this year Iran has engaged politically, economically and militarily in the form of active support for militant insurgency. Lately, the lowered U.S. casualties in Iraq may be a sign of not only a decrease in the size and scope of the U.S. mission there, but also a drawback of Iranian military equipment used by the insurgency. As well, our attempts to stifle the Iranian nuclear program in the form of international sanctions have been circumvented by a new and growing economic relationship with the Iraqi government. Therefore, it has become painfully obvious that the naivety of the Obama administration’s foreign policy has once again failed in its mission to provide a safe and stable environment in the Middle East by not actively engaging the Iranian nuclear threat, by removing U.S. ground forces from a region that will become unstable at best and volatile at worst without them and by leaving Israel in a more isolated position by the day.