On Tuesday, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq shed new light on Tehran’s relentless meddling. At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, Ambassador Ryan Crocker stated that the ayatollahs’ regime was bent on the "Lebanonization" of Iraq, while General David Petraeus talked about Tehran’s “destructive role” which, if unchecked, poses “the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.”
As Gen. Petraeus was explaining how the recent attacks on the Green Zone were carried out by Tehran-controlled Special Groups armed with 107 mm rockets supplied by Iran, Tehran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman shamelessly “condemned” the attacks — almost two weeks after the fact.
His announcement was part of a deliberate attempt by Tehran to steal Gen. Petraeus’ and Amb. Crocker’s thunder on the same day its nefarious acts in Iraq were being spotlighted in Washington. Not by coincidence, the ayatollahs’ president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, chose Tuesday to announce the installation of another 6,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges in the Natanz nuclear facility.
In recent months, Gen. Petraeus has increasingly pointed to Tehran and its Qods Force as the primary culprits in the violence and bloodshed in Iraq. He highlighted the ayatollahs’ “funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called Special Groups.”
Warning that “a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences” for the efforts “to counter malign Iranian influence” and for “the regional stability,” the U.S. commander in Iraq said that “We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months ahead, as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbor and the character of future Iranian involvement in Iraq.” He was emphatic that “It clearly is in our national interest” to help Iraq “resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty.”
Ambassador Crocker’s description of Tehran’s destabilizing role in Iraq was equally categorical. He said that “Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through the authority and training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.”
Asked if he was confident about the direct role of Tehran’s leadership in the violence, Amb. Crocker answered with a resounding yes, with absolute certainty. He remarked in his written testimony that “When the President announced the Surge, he pledged to seek out and destroy Iranian-supported lethal networks inside Iraq. We know more about these networks and their Quds Force sponsors than ever before — and we will continue to aggressively uproot and destroy them.” He added that failure in Iraq would result in Iran’s filling the vacuum and in extremist Shi’a militias’ reasserting themselves “and in all of this, the Iraqi people would suffer on a scale far beyond what we have already seen. Spiraling conflict could draw in neighbors with devastating consequences for the region and the world.”
There is no doubt Iraq’s No. 1 problem is, in fact, Iran. Unlike Al Qaeda, which is a malicious, but nonetheless superficial threat, Iran under the expansionist rule of ayatollahs is a strategic threat for a sovereign, unified and democratic Iraq. Currently, Iran's widespread and deadly presence in Iraq includes as many as 32,000 Iraqis on its payroll. Made up of agents within and without Nuri al-Maliki’s government, this list includes senior officials in the Iraqi police force, ministries, National Assembly and other institutions.
The United States can still reverse the tide and win in Iraq, but it must act quickly and decisively. Rather than wasting time, blood and treasure debating some sort of ineffectual and illusory “diplomatic surge” aimed at converting the murderous ayatollahs’ regime into a peace partner, we should focus on effective, albeit bold, new approaches.
Any viable game plan 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 which include the Badr Brigade, not just the Mahdi Army, as well as scores of other violent proxy groups such as Seyyed ol Shohada and 15th Shaban groups; and purging the Iraqi government of Tehran's proxies. In other words, the U.S. must set about vigorously dismantling Iran's terror network in Iraq.
This must be coupled with empowering the moderate, non-sectarian Iraqi political figures so that they can form a national unity government. That must be the focal point of Washington’s political efforts in Iraq. Nuri al-Maliki and his government, commonly known among Iraqis as the "Persian ex-pats in light of the many years of grooming they received from the Qods Force in Iran, are a liability. Iraq under Maliki will never see unity, non-sectarianism or democracy.
Many moderate Iraqi politicians, including some key members of Parliament, view Iran's main opposition group, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), based in Ashraf City, Iraq, as a reliable partner for genuine democracy in Iraq and Iran. The MEK has acted as a catalyst for building stability, and has fostered unity among moderate Shiites and Sunnis. A large group of bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress believe that Washington should 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 exposed many of Iran’s terrorist conspiracies in Iraq, thus saving the lives of countless Iraqis and Americans.
The strength and resilience of the Iraqi people should reassure us that tomorrow’s Iraq does not have to be a sister Islamic Republic of Iran. If Tehran’s tentacles are cut off in Iraq, the Iraqi people will have a real chance to form a peaceful, non-sectarian and democratic society. That is a plan that seems to already have the support of the U.S. Congress.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
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.
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, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.