Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Train In Vain?

Coming on the heels of the resounding electoral victory of the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, these developments are probably causing a bit of unrest in many circles (via the Financial Times - subscription only):

Former foes Iraq and Iran announced "a new chapter" in their relations on Thursday, including cross-border military co-operation, dismissing US concerns about Iranian regional meddling.

On his first official visit to Tehran, Iraqi minister of defence Saadoun al-Dulaimi asserted his country's sovereign right to seek help from wherever it sees fit in rebuilding its defence capabilities.
Juan Cole summarized the article, as well as other corroborating reports, thusly:

The Financial Times reports on negotiations between Iraq and Iran about mutual aid. Iran will give Iraq $1 billion in foreign aid, and will help train the new Iraqi military (as reported here from al-Hayat a couple of days ago). Everyone is doing a double-take about these developments. But they were predictable, given that the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party won the January 30 elections that the American public was so excited about. This is what that victory really means. Iran in some sense as much won those elections as the Bush administration lost them.
But, Iraq's defense minister was quick to downplay the implications of the claim by his Iranian counterpart that cooperation would extend to training Iraqi military forces:

Iraq's defense minister said Monday that a military agreement reached with Iran last week does not include any provision for the Iranian armed forces to help train Iraqi troops, contradicting reported assertions by his Iranian counterpart.

Defense Minister Sadoun Dulaimi said during a news conference here that the five-point memorandum of understanding that he and Iran's defense minister, Adm. Ali Shamkhani, signed Thursday in Tehran contained "no agreement" on military training.
This move to disavow that level of cooperation is not surprising - though it is hard to tell what's really going on behind the scenes and what future plans may hold. My guess is the peshmerga would not be too comfortable with Iranian trainers for the Iraqi military writ large, nor would potential Sunni factions to be included (hopefully) in the nascent armed forces. So some level of pushback would be expected from such an accord - but that doesn't mean it's DOA.

Which brings us back to that increasingly problematic situation with the balkanization of Iraq's armed groups into various militias - each with competing or at least divergent allegiances and aspirations - and the near impossible task of bringing them all into the fold under one united flag.

Could this cooperation with Iran be a formal acknowledgement of that country's ongoing involvement with the Badr Corp.? I can't give the answer to that question. But any military cooperation with Iran, even short of training Iraqi military forces, could serve to exacerbate the ethnic and sectarian cleavages currently pulling in disparate directions in Iraq by increasing the perception of Tehran's influence over certain Shiite ruling factions - thus making any resolution on the militia dilemma that much more remote. Not to mention what this means for US interests vis a vis Iran, and any potential military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. The plot thickens.

[Update: Justin Delabar has more:

How much can change in only a couple weeks.

The Iraqi government has clamped down on pro-Iran public talk recently, as prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari claimed relations with the US would remain strong even if the Bush administration ordered an assault on Iran if nuclear negotiations broke down. A marked change, considering the SCIRI and Dawa parties, both making up the largest portion of the Shi'ite coalition running the National Assembly, are directly backed by the Iranians. Also, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- easily the most powerful and influential Shi'ite in Iraq -- is an Iranian citizen. Undoubtedly, the US has been using its status as the only effective security force in the country to place leverage on the Iraqi government over Iran, which is a policy I support -- although it cannot work indefinitely. Iraq will eventually become a fully sovereign country and its ties to Iran will strengthen at an even faster rate when that finally occurs. Iranian foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi's visit to Baghdad in May and Shamkhani's visit -- and the five military "guidelines" reached by him and his Iraqi counterpart -- are only the beginning of the process, constrained as it may be.

I have to wonder if concerns over Kurdish autonomy are pushing some of the military-centered talks? Scary thought with possible wide-ranging ramifications if true.
Good points by Justin. There is, unfortunately, a solid chance that the Shiite parties will turn to Iran to strengthen their capabilities, military and otherwise, as more and more American forces begin withdrawing from the theater - with the threat from the Sunni based insurgency persisting beyond such pull out, thus necessitating such close alliances with Iran. Beyond that, though, there may be natural motivations for alliance with Iran that transcend the need for fortification of militias and security forces. And speaking of withdrawal - perhaps sooner than some war supporters might like - say, in early 2006?]

(cross-posted at Liberals Against Terrorism)

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