During his recent televised speech about Iraq, the president hammered home the point once again that a loss in Iraq is a victory for Al Qaeda. Of that, no realist without a political agenda could argue. What he failed to mention with clarity, however, is that a loss in Iraq is also a victory for Iran — a clear victory at that, and one whose ramifications may extend far beyond those of a victorious Al Qaeda.
To be sure, Al Qaeda will have a new “playground” from which to train, prepare, equip and deploy operatives around the globe. They’ll fly in and out of Baghdad much as they flew in and out of Kabul before the events of 9/11. They’ll also take stark comfort in the fact that having pulled out of Iraq with our tail between our legs, there’s barely a chance in the world that we’ll return. Consider Vietnam, Beirut, and Somalia if you disagree.
But to me, and many of those following events in Iraq quite closely, the real issue is not about an Al Qaeda victory in Iraq. It’s worse. It’s about an Iranian victory in Iraq. Iran as empowered and emboldened, quick to fill the void, on the threshold of having nuclear weapons and openly frank in their desire to wipe Israel and the U.S. off the map.
Although Iran’s profile within Iraq has been slowly highlighted by both the media and the administration, the fact is that the intelligence community has followed it closely almost from day one — the day American forces crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq back in 2003. As the U.S. military poured across the border, so did many Iranian agents further north along Iran’s common border with Iraq. They brought money, influence and terror of their own sort, assassinating local Iraqi leaders who they thought might resist their presence or their play for power. Over time, while senior U.S. leadership downplayed their presence and focused the fight elsewhere, they became pervasive.
Today, according to some qualified sources, nearly 30,000 Iranian agents of influence are operating in Iraq. Some are there within the Shiite population as non-governmental organizations providing humanitarian relief. Others are closely tied to the militias, providing training and logistical support. Others are involved in the smuggling of the roadside bombs which have killed numerous Americans. Others still have been directly involved in murderous operations against Americans.
The bottom line is that Iran has postured itself to remain present when we leave, and that presence will have ramifications throughout the region. One need only to look at a map of the Middle East to understand how an Iranian influenced, indeed to some degree controlled, Iraq will impact events in that region and throughout the world.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah, considered by many to be a much more virulent terrorist organization than even Al Qaeda, finds its support, strategic vision and often its orders from Iran’s mullahs. Hezbollah’s war with Israel last summer left the organization politically, psychologically and strategically much stronger than they were before the war began. While our own administration hailed Israel’s “victory” in the war, the vast majority of Israelis themselves called it exactly as it was — a defeat by any definition. And that defeat, as all Israelis know, was a victory for not only Hezbollah but for their mentor Iran as well.
To add to its strategic posturing, now that Hamas has taken full control of Gaza, the narrow strip of land in the southwest corner of Israel, Iran is ramping up its support to the Palestinian radicals there. Money, training, weapons, and a shared hatred of Israel are all incentives for the Palestinians to fall into Iran’s fold — and they’re doing it! Intelligence reports show a flow of Iranian sponsored support into Hamas, and virtually nothing is being done about it. Actions into Gaza by the Israelis are met immediately with condemnation from Europe while the U.S. blandly remains quiet.
Against the backdrop of Iran’s expanding sphere of influence sits its nuclear weapons program. Despite U.N. efforts involving existing and proposed sanctions, the Iranian mullahs push forward with their program, by all accounts determined to have weapons in hand as soon as possible. Consider then their ability to clandestinely move weapons to Hezbollah or Hamas. Out of the question? I doubt it. Easy? I doubt that too, but it would be folly to assume it couldn’t happen.
Bringing Iraq or even major portions of Iraq such as the oil rich south into its fold will dramatically increase Iran’s influence in the region and ultimately elsewhere. All of that will happen to the detriment of our own country and that of our steadfast allies. Iran is already the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism. A clear U.S. defeat in Iraq will not likely abate their thirst to expand their networks or influence.
A shadow falls over Iraq from the east. It’s the ominous presence of Iran, perched as it is, waiting for the moment, and when America pulls out, the moment will be at hand. Al Qaeda will surely be winners if it happens, but to many of us, their win will be far overshadowed by the “win” Iran will be accorded.
Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.