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December 16, 2008

Rice declares victory in war of influence over Iraq

riceCheck out Democracy Arsenal’s look at Condoleezza Rice’s recent statements that seem like a relatively creative interpretation of the situation facing Iraq today.
Secretary Rice, along with other US and Iraqi officials, have acknowledged that Iran has made a deliberate decision to curb its destabilizing influence in Iraq, but she places the credit for this entirely on US pressure.

“It was getting to be a very tough business, given that we pursued them and pursued them hard,” the secretary said.

I think this is a pretty myopic take on things, and at best wishful thinking.  The situation in Iraq has improved over time because of a combination of factors: the troop surge, Gen. Petraeus’ change in counterinsurgency strategy, the Sunni Awakening, political reconciliation within Parliament, and Iranian cooperation with the Maliki government.  These, and probably hundreds of other factors, are the reason Iraq is better off today than years past.  And now with Iraq’s acceptance of the revised Status of Forces Agreement, why shouldn’t Iran feel more comfortable than before?
The lesson Secretary Rice should learn from this experience is not that harsh rhetoric, unilateral sanctions, and threats of attack are an effective way to deal with a problem.  Rather, the experience in Iraq proves that engagement between nations on issues of mutual interest can lead to a healthy and productive relationship.
This is a beautiful opportunity for the US to learn a lesson in democracy from its fledgling democrats in Iraq.  Let’s hope Secretary Rice will take another look.
from Democracy Arsenal:

On Iran, Rice said the clerical regime is finding it harder to operate inside next-door Iraq, and claimed that a turning point was last spring’s rout of Iranian-backed forces in the southern city of Basra.
“The Iranians find themselves unable to operate as effectively in Iraq because we’ve been very aggressive against their agents,” Rice said in her farewell interview with AP reporters and editors at the State Department.
In Basra, Rice emphasized, “they flat-out lost.”

The problem with this claim is that it assumes that Iran had staked all of its influence in Iraq with the “special groups” fighting in Basra. The reality is much more complicated.  Various elements of the Iranian Government have strong ties with Maliki and specifically ISCI – his most important partners in the Iraqi Government.  In fact, a recent study by Brian Fishman and Joseph Felter of the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point concluded that supporting these militias was a secondary strategy and that Iran’s primary strategy for projecting influence in Iraq is through its political relationships (PDF)

Even more here.

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