Today, Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, joined by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, will appear before Congress to give his much anticipated assessment of the military/security situation in Iraq and the troop surge strategy.
Gen. Petraeus ought to tell the people of America that:
The political and security situation in Iraq is very bleak but not hopeless. The surge strategy has had some positive results in many areas. But it must be augmented with a comprehensive and courageous new approach.
President George W. Bush has appropriately framed the conflict in Iraq as a fight between “the forces of freedom” and “the forces of extremism.” He has said that “the future course of the Middle East will turn heavily on the outcome of the fight in Iraq. And the two dangerous strains of extremism vying for control of the Middle East have now closed in on this country.” Absolutely spot on.
The core problem in Iraq is neither a civil nor a sectarian war. The main strategic threat to Iraq is neither Al Qaeda nor the Sunni insurgents. True, they are both responsible for a significant portion of violence in Iraq, but they both lack strategic assets to take over Iraq politically and militarily.
Iraq’s No. 1 problem is, in fact, Iran’s widespread and deadly presence in Iraq. Iran is undoubtedly the main instigator of violence, instability and derailing the political process in that country. Unlike Al Qaeda, Iran is a strategic threat for a sovereign, unified and Democratic Iraq. It is a regime with vast resources dedicated to the sponsorship of terrorism and export of fundamentalism, a 900-mile porous common border, and huge political and intelligence assets both within and outside the Iraqi government. Tehran is spending nearly $70,000,000 per month arming, training and funding Iraqi Shiite and Sunni militias.
Tehran’s arms, however, have not reached into the heart and minds of the Iraqis. As the joy and pride that Iraqis felt and displayed for their national soccer team’s Asian championship made amply clear, national Iraqi pride transcended all sectarian lines. Indeed, in areas of Iraqi society not infested by Iran’s radical fundamentalist agenda and proxies, the prospect of a nation in which Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds live peacefully together shines through.
Four years ago, when Operation Iraqi Freedom flung open the door to Iraq, Iran’s ayatollahs leapt at the chance to fulfill their long-held goal of remaking Iraq in their own image.
Unfortunately, U.S. policy since 2003 has unintentionally yet effectively supported the Iranian regime. With its incorrect and somewhat naïve assessment of the central threat to Iraq and grave underestimation of the width and depth of the ayatollahs’ campaign in Iraq, the U.S. rolled out a red carpet to the Iranian regime’s proxies at the start of the war.
Four years on, Iran’s leaders have exploited all aspects of Iraq’s political and security landscape. Currently, Iran has as many as 32,000 Iraqis on its payroll, including senior officials in the Iraqi police force, ministries, National Assembly and other institutions. More ominously, rather than fulfilling his duty to disband and disarm the militias, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is also enhancing Iran’s position by keeping his loyalty to Tehran and empowering the Iran-backed militias.
It may seem that under the present circumstances there is no hope for an improvement of the situation in Iraq. Some suggest bringing in the Iranian regime as part of the solution. But the Iranian regime is the main problem, not a part of the solution in Iraq.
Some others say it is too late; that Iraq is lost to extremists and the sectarian religious war backed by Tehran. This defeatist attitude must be repelled. It only emboldens Tehran and its Shiite and Sunni proxies. The international community can still reverse the tide and win in Iraq. But it must act quickly and decisively.
It must start by stepping up the arrest of the regime's agents in Iraq; cutting off smuggling routes for weapons, explosives and agents; disarming the Shiite militias including the Badr Corp and the Mahdi Army; and purging the Iraqi government of Tehran's proxies — essentially dismantling Iran's network in Iraq.
This must be coupled with empowering the moderate Iraqi voices in order to form a national unity government. These patriotic Iraqis are working to build an alternative coalition that includes the Sunnis, Shiites and ethnic Kurds. This campaign must be supported and placed at the center of Washington’s political efforts in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki and his government, dominated by pro-Tehran politicians, are now viewed as a liability for a unified, non-sectarian and democratic Iraq.
Moreover, many moderate Iraqi politicians, including some key members of the Iraqi Parliament, believe that Iran's main opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), based in Ashraf City, Iraq, has been the catalyst for building stability in Iraq and supporting moderate Shiites and Sunnis. In addition, 5.2 million Iraqis signed a document warning of the threat of Iranian meddling in Iraq and recognizing the MEK as a balancing factor to keep Iraq clear of Iran’s domination. A large bipartisan group of members of the United States Congress believe that Washington must open a dialogue with the MEK as a strategic partner in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and a bulwark against the Iranian regime’s influence in Iraq. According to the U.S. military, since 2003, the MEK has unveiled a major part of Iran’s terrorist conspiracies in Iraq and as such has saved the lives of countless Iraqis and Americans.
The strength and resilience of the Iraqi people prove that the future Iraq does not have to be a sister Islamic Republic of Iran. If Iran is stopped from supporting the sectarian violence and interfering in Iraq’s political and social sectors, the Iraqi people will have a chance to form a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic society. Tehran is carefully listening to what Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have to report to Congress today. There is a unique chance for them to send Tehran an unmistakably clear and decisive message that the surge strategy will be followed by dismantling Tehran's network in Iraq, thus allowing the moderate Iraqi voices to be empowered. This roadmap will go a long way to secure the support of the U.S. Congress.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org.