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May 8, 2008

Iran in Iraq: whats next for the US

Word on the Hill is that there will be a lay-out of Iranian weapons that have been used by “special groups” to kill US soldiers and undermine the Iraqi government pretty soon. They are still deciding whether it should be Petraeus/Crocker or the Iraqi government who should present what several insiders have described as “strong” evidence that the Iranians are fueling instability and the recent in-fighting in Basra.

In their testimony April 8, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker spelled out a definitive link between Iranian interference in Iraq and America’s ability to draw down troops.

Senator Barak Obama (D-IL) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, had plenty to say on that front. Both democratic senators took jabs at the premise that Iranian “meddling” should keep us in Iraq. I have included some excerpts from the hearing transcript below.

BOXER: Iraqi leaders kissed Ahmadinejad on the cheek?

Senator Barbara Boxer asked Petraeus some pointed questions about Iraq’s relationship with the Amadinejad government:

BOXER: Ahmadinejad was the first national leader to be given a state reception by Iraq’s government. Iraq President Talabani and Ahmadinejad held hands as they inspected a guard of honor, while a brass band played brisk British marching tunes. Children presented the Iranian with flowers. Members of Iraq’s cabinet lined up to greet him, some kissing him on cheeks.

So it’s not a question about the militias out there. I’m saying, after all we have done, the Iraqi government kisses the Iranian leader, and our president has to sneak into the country. I don’t understand it.

Isn’t it true that after all we’ve done, Iran has gained ground?

CROCKER: Senator, Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously an extremely important issue for us. But it’s very much, I think, a mixed bag. And what we saw over these last couple of weeks in Baghdad and in Basra, as the prime minister engaged extremist militias that were supported by Iran, is that it revealed not only what Iran is doing in Iraq, but it produced a backlash against them and a rallying of support for the prime minister in being ready to take them on.

Iran by no means has it all its own way in Iraq. Iraqis remember with clarity and bitterness the 1980 to ’88 Iran-Iraq war in which…

BOXER: That’s my point.

PETRAEUS: … in which…

BOXER: And now he’s getting kissed on the cheek. That’s my point.

PETRAEUS: And — and there was a lot of commentary around among Iraqis, including among Shia Iraqis, about just that point. What’s he doing here, after what they did to us during that war.

But Iraqi Shia died by the tens, by the hundreds of thousands, defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy. And that’s, again, deeply felt. It means when Iran’s hand is exposed in backing these extremist militias that there is a backlash, broadly speaking, in the country, including from Iraq Shia. And I think that’s important. And I think it’s important that the Iraqi government build on it.

BOXER: I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing. But they actually kissed him on the cheek. He had a red carpet treatment.

And we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free.

It is irritating, is my point.

PETRAEUS: Senator, the vice president was in Iraq just a couple weeks after that, and he also had a very warm reception.

BIDEN: Did he get kissed? Get a kiss?


PETRAEUS: I believe he did get kissed when he was there.

BIDEN: I just want to know whether he got kissed, that’s all.


OBAMA: If Iraq can talk to them, why can’t we?

During his turn at the mike, Obama sought to clarify US objectives when it comes to Iranian influence.

OBAMA: Just as it’s fair to say that we’re not going to completely eliminate all traces of Al Qaida in Iraq, but we want to create a manageable situation, it’s also true to say that we’re not going to eliminate all influence of Iran in Iraq, correct?

That’s not our goal. That can’t be our definition of success, that Iran has no influence in Iraq.

So can you define more sharply what you think would be a legitimate or fair set of circumstances in the relationship between Iran and Iraq, that would make us feel comfortable drawing down our troops?

CROCKER: Senator, as I said in my statement, we have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.

OBAMA: Do we feel confident that the Iraqi government is directing these — this aid to these special groups?

Do we feel confident about that, or do we think that they’re just tacitly tolerating it? Do you have some sense of that?

CROCKER: There’s no question in our minds that the Iranian government, and in particular the Quds Force, is — this is a conscious, carefully worked-out policy.

OBAMA: If that’s the case, can you respond a little more fully to Senator Boxer’s point? If, in fact, it is known — and I’m assuming you’ve shared that information with the Maliki government — that Iran’s government has assisted in arming special groups that are doing harm to Iraqi security forces and undermining the Iraqi government, why is it that they’re being welcomed the way they were?

CROCKER: Well, we don’t need to, again, tell the prime minister that. He knows it.


CROCKER: And is trying to take some steps to tighten up significantly on the border.

In terms of the Ahmadinejad visit, you know, Iran and Iraq are neighbors. A visit like that should be in the category of a normal relationship.


CROCKER: I think what we have seen since then, in terms of this very clear spotlight focused on a malign Iranian influence, puts that visit into a very different perspective for most Iraqis, including the Iraqi Shia.

OBAMA: OK. Because — Mr. Chairman, I know that I am out of time, so let me just, if I could have the indulgence of the committee for one minute?

BIDEN: Everybody else has.


OBAMA: I just want to close with a couple of key points.

Number one, we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq — all of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record.

I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you’ve pointed out — Al Qaida in Iraq and increased Iranian influence in the region — are a direct result of that original decision.

OBAMA: That’s not a decision you gentlemen made. I won’t lay it at your feet. You are cleaning up the mess afterwards. But I think it is important as we debate this forward.

I also think that the surge has reduced violence and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia jockeying for power that underscores how complicated the political situation is there and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it.

I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador, if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind — and this is where we disagree — includes a timetable for withdrawal.

Nobody’s asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure; and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran. Because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we’re going to be able to stabilize the position without them.

You can access the full transcript of the hearing here.

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