Monday, January 29, 2007
You got the moves, you know the streets -- break the rules, take the heat:
One of my favorite moments in the Iraq war so far took place nearly a year ago today in Irbil. I was sitting in the balcony of the Kurdish parliament waiting for Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani to announce a much-delayed union of two Kurdish factions -- largely to leverage influence in Baghdad and prepare the way for eventual independence -- when the dignitaries began marching in. Zalmay Khalilzad strode to his chair, with his British, French and Chinese counterparts not far behind, and they exchanged greetings to the Kurdish leaders and their entourages. Then came someone I didn't recognize, dressed in an ostentatiously Shiite style, all flowing brown robes and taught turban. I figured it was someone from SCIRI -- Adel Abdul Mehdi was also there, but he was seated several rows behind the foreigners -- and so I asked my translator if he knew who this was. Sure, G***** said: it was the Iranian ambassador, Hassan Kathemi Qommi. The Kurds were very happy to see him, even if Khalilzad never so much as turned his head to acknowledge the man sitting five seats away.

Today Qommi announces his government's own plans for a surge. Iran is offering security and reconstruction assistance -- you know, exactly what Bush says he's got on the table. In essence, Qommi is remarking that the U.S.'s plans for rebuilding Iraq have fallen short, and so Iran -- an ultimate beneficiary of the Iraq war in any case -- might as well take it from here. (Or, in his own arch words, "We have experience of reconstruction after war.") There's actually nothing in Stephen Hadley's op-ed on the surge that Qommi would find substantively objectionable.

The intelligence community is devoting a lot of energy into determining the extent of Iranian influence in Iraq. Qommi is essentially saying not to bother -- of course Iran is deep in Iraq; in the case of the Shiites, Iraqis want the Iranians in Iraq more than they want the Americans in Iraq. If there's an implicit message here, it's one that says: Are you sure IRAQ is where you want to hold a contest for hegemony? After all, even if Petraeus succeeds in retaking Baghdad, it will be to hand Iraq over to a political process that heavily favors Iranian proxies.

Look: as long as this is true, the U.S. really might as well negotiate a modus vivendi with Iran over Iraq. It doesn't make any sense to fight them in Iraq and risk a regional war in order to entrench their allies's position in the Iraqi government. Qommi's comments to the Times simply underscore that we simply don't have anything like a winning hand here; even if we "win" in Baghdad, Iran comes out stronger than we do, and all the bloviation about evil won't change that. What's holding Bush back from making such a deal is merely a vain refusal to admit error -- that he fucked up strategically and not just tactically. At this point, an alternative course to stay in Iraq and roll back Iranian hegemony really requires a U.S.-backed coup that puts an Iyad Allawi figure in charge. Then, maybe, Iran would have something to worry about. For now, as a wise man once said, we're going off the rails on a crazy train.

UPDATE: That said, it is of course, a good thing that yet another Shiite shrine -- this one in Najaf -- wasn't blown up by Sunnis. Score one for U.S.-plus-Maliki forces.
--Spencer Ackerman
Regarding the update - Ezra, haven't you learned? You can't trust anything that the administration or the Iraqi governemnt says. I'm serious - I'm certain that those recent reports were a lie. Please, please don't start buying into the warmonger lies.

You've come a long way, but, like most liberals, you are not nearly shrill enough. The adminstration and their supporters ARE THE EMEMIES OF OUR WAY OF LIFE. No quarter, no surrender. They are the personification of evil.
Blogger Larry | 7:56 AM

... I'm not Ezra.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 8:23 AM

But don't you wish you were?
Blogger Ezra | 8:26 AM

At DC9 on Friday I did.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 8:34 AM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blogger Larry | 9:58 AM

I blame Bush for my mistake.

Seriously, see what anger does to you?

Anyway, I always did see you guys as kind of fungible. As I dig myself deeper.
Blogger Larry | 9:59 AM

Can I ask a dumb question? Would it be in our best interest to have Iran become the Middle-East hegemony? That way we're dealing with one major power broker who's willing to strong-arm the satellites. And maybe Iran would have to nuance its saber-rattling because the stakes would be higher. Maybe it would undermine pan-Arab Islamism by drawing the focus to an actual state instead of an idea. Maybe we can get another cold war stalemate. Am I that naive?
Blogger Harvey Birdman | 10:13 AM

I don't think that type of regional hegemony is really in the cards. The Sunni states just aren't going to allow that - or at least it couldn't spread to their respective nations.

The most I think Iran's going to get out of it all is a vastly improved situation in Iraq - with a certain level of influence there - a continued cooperative relationship with the Syrians (unless we figure out it'd be smarter to peel Assad away) and a cat's paw in Lebanon that can't dominate that country, but can't be dismissed either.

Greg Gause had an excellent analysis of this dynamic over at chez Abu Aardvark
Blogger Eric Martin | 11:24 AM