Engaging Iran

OPINIONS over the war in Iraq are split in the United States, with opponents and proponents arguing over the reasons and justifications that took the country to war in the Middle East in the first place.

By Claude Salhani

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Published: Fri 31 Mar 2006, 11:05 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 1:36 PM

Undoubtedly, politicians on both sides of the aisle will have something to argue over for many more years to come. Proponents of the war point to the positive results brought about by the US invasion of Iraq; the downfall of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, the beginning of the democratic — though timid — process in the country, elections and so forth. Opponents of the war point to the negatives: insecurity, mounting violence, more and more brazen attacks against American and Iraqi forces by the resistance, suicide bombers, unemployment, rising crime rates, etc. The list is indeed a long one. Only time will tell if President George W. Bush's had justifiable reasons for going to war, or if he committed a major policy error.

For those who believe that the war was wrong and the president made a mistake, here is another potential Bush blunder. This time there is no need to await the passage of time to realise that the president is about to make another bad policy decision: and that is inviting Iran to negotiate in Iraq's future. By inviting Teheran to the negotiating table, Washington recognises Iran as a de facto regional political contender and power broker in the Middle East. Washington’s actions gives instant legitimacy to the mullah’s theocratic regime, a move that goes counter to the current policy of wanting to encourage regime change. Furthermore, it saps away efforts by Iranian opposition forces. Inviting Teheran to discuss Iraq’s future elevates the regime in Iran to the statute of being a ‘Yalta-like’ participant in deciding Iraq's future, even though the Islamic republic played no role in liberating Iraq from Saddam Hussein. Amir Taheri, a noted writer on Iranian affairs, comments that it would have been the equivalent to the Allies inviting Switzerland or Poland to talks on Germany's future at the end of World War II.

This could be Washington’s ‘first major mistake’, says Taheri. Naturally, many are those would argue that point on the grounds that this is another of a multitude of mistakes, in a long-running series of political errors committed by this administration in conducting the war and consequently in its efforts to establish peace in Iraq. Beginning with the reason given by the administration for the invasion of Iraq; the gross mismanagement during the immediate aftermath of initial combat operations; and right up to the current chaos that is gripping the country and taking it to the brink of all out civil war. Not to mention the great oversight in allowing Iran to establish a foothold in Iraq. It is therefore only reasonable to question what was the first error lies. Some observers might point to Bush 41, the father of the incumbent, Bush 43, saying it was he who made the first mistake. Bush 41 missed the perfect opportunity to oust Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Gulf War. Citing a lack of an international mandate, he chose not to.

Looking back, it is quite possible that history is not being kind enough to Bush 41, and not giving him enough credit for his foresight. Bush 41 may have realised the dangers of opening the Iraqi Pandora's box. Bush 41 decided not to press the issue and allowed Saddam to remain in power. One rather unpleasant result from that decision was the slaughter of some 200,000 Iraqi Shias by Saddam's special forces in revenge for their uprising. The war in Iraq created a power void allowing Iran to establish an important foothold in Iraq thanks to its proxy militias. Inviting Teheran to negotiate in Iraq's future only strengthens Iran's position.

As Taheri points out, it will allow Iran to build a strategic corridor "through which it can communicate with Syria and Lebanon, which it considers as part of its broader glacis." Once Teheran establishes its power in Iraq as it has in Syria and Lebanon, Taheri states, "it would be able to project power in the Levant for the first time since the early 7th century when the Persian Empire under Khosrow Parviz drove the Byzantines out of Mesopotamia and what is now Syria."

Teheran would like to see history repeat itself and see the new Byzantines of the 21st century — the Americans — repelled from Mesopotamia. The mystery, as writes Taheri, is "why Washington wants to give Teheran a place at the high table in Iraq." Time might provide the answer to that question, but by then it will have been to late.

Claude Salhani is International Editor and a political analyst with United Press International in Washington, DC. Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.

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