Interesting read, thanks for sharing!
I've no opinions on this yet, but what do you guys think? Would be interesting to get some perspectives.
Full article http://www.latimes.com/news/nationwo...0,946032.storyThe influence of Tehran on its neighbor is growing, while the U.S., Iraqi officials and analysts say, pursues a policy of near-total disengagement.
Ten years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the geopolitical winner of the war appears to be their common enemy: Iran.
American military forces are long gone, and Iraqi officials say Washington's political influence in Baghdad is now virtually nonexistent. Hussein is dead. But Iran has become an indispensable broker among Baghdad's new Shiite elite, and its influence continues to grow.
The signs are evident in the prominence of pro-Iran militias on the streets, at public celebrations and in the faces of some of those now in the halls of power, men such as Abu Mehdi Mohandis, an Iraqi with a long history of anti-American activity and deep ties to Iran.
During the occupation, U.S. officials accused Mohandis of arranging a supply of Iranian-made bombs to be used against U.S. troops. But now Iraqi officials say Mohandis speaks for Iran here, and Prime Minister Nouri Maliki recently entrusted him with a sensitive domestic political mission.
Iran's role reinforces its strategic position at a time when the world looks increasingly hostile to Tehran, the capital. It faces tough international sanctions for its disputed nuclear program and fears losing longtime ally Syria to an insurgency backed by regional Sunni Muslim rivals.
Western diplomats and Iraqi politicians say they are concerned that the Islamic Republic will be tempted to use proxies in Iraq to strike at its enemies, as it has done with Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
American officials say they remain vital players in Iraq and have worked to defuse tension between Maliki and his foes.
During a visit to Baghdad on Sunday, however, Secretary of State John F. Kerry was unable to persuade Maliki to stop Iranian flights crossing Iraqi airspace to Syria. The U.S. charges that Iranian weapons shipments are key to propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad; Maliki says there is no proof that Tehran is sending anything besides humanitarian aid. Kerry's visit was the first by a U.S. Cabinet official in more than a year.
Overall, Iraqi officials and analysts say, Washington has pursued a policy of near-total disengagement, with policy decisions largely relegated to the embassy in Baghdad. Some tribal leaders complain that the Americans have not contacted them since U.S. troops left in late 2011.
Iraq's political atmosphere has deteriorated. Maliki has ordered the arrest of his former finance minister, a Sunni. Disputes in the north between the central government and leaders of the semiautonomous Kurdish region are unresolved.
"The Americans have no role. Nobody listens to them. They lost their power in this country," said Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq, a Sunni, commenting on the disappearance of the Americans as a broker for most of Iraq's disputes.
The vacuum has been filled in large part by Iran and by Iraq's Sunni neighbors, each intent on wielding maximum influence in a country that stands as a buffer between Shiite Iran and the largely Sunni Middle East.
"At the moment, Iran has something akin to veto power in Iraq, in that Maliki is careful not to take decisions that might alienate Iran," said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
An Iraqi Shiite politician who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, described Iran's objectives this way: "Controlled instability in Iraq and a submissive or sympathetic Islamist Shia government in accord with Iran's regional interests, most importantly regarding Syria."
Maliki turned to Shiite Islamist parties and figures tied to Iran to stay in power after a close election in 2010. He has fended off challenges since then with the support of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who fears the expansion of Sunni power if Syria or Iraq collapses. Maliki has convinced the Iranians that he is the only one who can hold his country together, according to Iraqi politicians.
Iran has forcefully backed quasi-political and military groups in Iraq such as the Badr Organization, Khitab Hezbollah and Asaib al Haq, and encouraged them to support Maliki.
The Badr Organization was funded and trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guard in the 1980s to fight Hussein. Both Khitab Hezbollah and Asaib al Haq have professed their admiration for Khamenei while declaring their ambition to transform themselves into political and social movements.
Leading Iraqi Shiite officials describe the emergence of such overtly pro-Iran groups as a healthy development after the U.S. military withdrawal.
"These imitators of Khamenei and before that [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini were in hiding. Now they have become public and known," said Sheik Hamam Hamoudi, a Shiite member of parliament and a longtime resident of Iran before the U.S. toppled Hussein.
At a gathering last month at a sports club, members of Khitab Hezbollah greeted enthusiastic visitors under a portrait of Khamenei and banners showing a fist clenching a black Kalashnikov rifle rising from a map of the Middle East. Guests received a book, graced by a portrait of Khamenei, that describes a war pitting Iran and its allies against the West.
Interesting read, thanks for sharing!
I've no opinions on this yet, but what do you guys think? Would be interesting to get some perspectives.
Industrially and technologically, Iraq may have more to gain through its deep layer of alliance with Iran than with the Sunni Gulf powers. Iranian involvement in modernizing the infrastructure of other third world nations in the region like Afghanistan and Tajikistan comes to mind. This is as long as the international community does not choose to isolate Iraq for the industrial gains from Iran.
From an Iraqi point of view the alliance with Iran can be viewed as a good thing for the sake of Iraq's national development. Militarily it doesn't change the basic balance of power in the region (Iraqi insurgents won't stop the US from MOPing Iranian nuclear facilities from near orbit when the US perceives the course to be unavoidable; it only mildly affects what happens after the strike), at least for the next few years.
However, it will definitely harm Iraq's national development for Iraq itself if the sanctions did come to pass to block Iran-Iraq commerce. Good result for the west, not good at all for the ordinary, now free and democratic Iraqis.
Some academic explanations and press reports on Iran's role in stabilizing and modernizing Afghanistan (and to a lesser extent, Iraq) into a properly groomed state:
Iran and Afghanistan Cross Border Security Challenges, Conflict Management, and Iran-U.S. Relations
PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 56
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI),
Institute of World Economy & International Relations (Moscow)
Political, security, and humanitarian developments at the intersection of the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia are interrelated to such an extent that one issue or country cannot be adequately addressed without looking at every other. In particular, there is growing international concern about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, the location of the most intensive armed conflict in the world in 2007 and the second most intensive one in 2008. Insufficient attention, however, has been paid to the negative spillover effects of the Afghan conflict on neighboring states, with the notable exception of Pakistan, and to their role in Afghanistan. Another of Afghanistan’s major neighbours, Iran, has been no less heavily and dramatically affected by the mounting instability across the border. The burden placed on Iran by the consequences of the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan has been disproportionately high, compared to the impact on Western powers and stakeholders, and in many waysmakes Iran’s interest in Afghanistan more genuine and urgent.
At the same time, stalled and highly problematic relations between Iran and the United States have been a major stumbling block on the way to normalization for Afghanistan and the broader region. Ironically, Iran is perhaps the only regime in the region that, surrounded by destabilized and fragile states, unites internal stability, state functionality, and domestic legitimacy with a tradition of successful mediation in regional conflicts in its own neighborhood (from Tajikistan to Iraq), as well as full respect for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and borders. For its part, the United States has mainly focused in its relationship with Iran on the deadlock surrounding issues unrelated to Afghanistan, such as Iran’s nuclear program and its policies toward the Middle East and Israel, as well as on Iran’s role in the regional competition for influence in Afghanistan.
Iran has been more consistent in its stand against the Taliban than the United States. By the late 1990s, Tehran was increasingly concerned about the consolidation of a regime in a neighbouring state that (a) was de facto dominated by one of the most radical brands of Sunni Islamism, (b) was backed by a major regional rival and U.S. ally, Pakistan, and (c) displayed a degree of Pashtu nationalism opposed by Iran’s natural allies in Afghanistan (the Afghan Shia, such as the Hazara people, and the Persian [Dari]-speaking Sunnis, such as the Afghan Tajiks). Iran has gone some way toward upgrading its more narrow policy of the 1980s, which was focused more selectively on the Afghan Shia (especially in Hazarajat), to supporting the establishment of a broad-based government in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Tehran supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance even before the U.S.-led intervention, helped secure the Alliance’s support for the intervention, and was one of the first to recognize the Afghan Transitional Government after the fall of the Taliban and to help restart the political process. Unsurprisingly, Iran was irritated by the gradual marginalization of the Northern Alliance leaders and non-Pashtuns in the new Afghan government. Tehran is also suspicious of the idea of talks with the Taliban and sceptical about viewing a piecemeal deal with the Taliban as a panacea for solving Afghanistan’s security problems.
At present, Iran’s overall policy on Afghanistan appears to be aimed at a) securing in the long run the withdrawal of U.S. forces; b) keeping the Taliban out of the political process, while otherwise keeping that process broad and inclusive; and c) retaining and strengthening its influence in the west of Afghanistan. However, given Taliban resurgence and its de facto control in parts of the country, a deteriorating security situation, and a shift in the U.S. military presence’s regional center of gravity from Iraq to Afghanistan, Tehran’s first two priorities not only both suffer a setback, but are also increasingly in conflict with one another.
http://www.gwu.edu/~ieresgwu/assets/docs/pepm_056.pdfHarnessing Iran's Role in Afghanistan
Author: George Gavrilis, International Affairs Fellow
June 5, 2009
By most counts, Iran has been a better neighbor to Afghanistan than Pakistan. Pakistan has failed to manage its porous border, allowed insurgents to take refuge in its ungoverned frontier areas, and engaged regularly in disputes with Kabul. Iran works furiously to protect its vast boundary with Afghanistan, responds to unrest in its border provinces with an iron fist, and avoids major intrigues in Kabul. This contrast lends a subtle irony to the Obama administration's Af-Pak strategy, a strategy that seeks to deliver nearly $8 billion in military and development aid to Pakistan so that it can essentially behave more like Iran does toward its Afghan neighbor.
If pressed, many policymakers and diplomats in Washington, Brussels, and Kabul will acknowledge that Iran has been good to Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has frequently praised Iran's aid and constructive relations with his government. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has lauded Tehran's efforts to stem the cross-border movement of Afghan opiates. NATO officials indicate Iran's policy towards NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has been one of careful restraint.
While Iran frequently participates in high-level diplomatic discussions on Afghanistan, it does not figure consistently in the international community's strategic plans. Too much talk about cooperation with Iran remains taboo even in the wake of President Obama's carefully crafted, if tentative, statements about engaging Iran.
It's high time for the United States to engage Iran over Afghanistan in a way that is public, decisive, and comprehensive. Strategic cooperation is possible because the United States and Iran have converging interests and common aversions in Afghanistan. Both want a stable, central government in Kabul capable of putting down insurgents and narco-traffickers and wish to avoid the wholesale collapse of the Afghan state. An Af-Ir Strategy that formally recognizes these common interests may expand Tehran's contribution to Afghanistan's security and development. It may also trigger a much-needed thaw in Tehran-Washington relations.
http://www.cfr.org/iran/harnessing-i...anistan/p19562Iranian engineer brings roads, rail to Afghan west
By Golnar Motevalli
ARMALAK, Afghanistan | Sat Apr 17, 2010 4:47am EDT
(*******) - The television in the corner of the port-a-cabin reception room where Ali Tavakoli Khomeini receives guests outside the Afghan city of Herat is tuned to Iran's state 24-hour news channel.
Large maps of Iran and Afghanistan adorn the walls, and a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hangs alongside one of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. An Afghan cook arranges a spread of Persian cuisine.
While the United States will soon have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan waging war against the Taliban, Iran is quietly exerting influence on its neighbor in a subtler way: through bricks and mortar, railways and road.
Tavakoli, an Iranian engineer, has built some 400 km (250 miles) of highway and railroad in western Afghanistan over the last six years, paving the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road.
His firm is building a dam in rural Herat, and has just finished laying foundations for a railway that could one day link south and east Asia to the Middle East and Europe, reviving some of the most important ancient overland trade routes in the world.
It would reduce the cost of moving goods across the region to a fraction of that of highway transport, he said.
"A man who builds a path will always be granted a place in heaven by God," he says, recalling a proverb told to him 10 years ago by Saparmurat Niyazov, the then president of Turkmenistan, where Tavakoli spent eight years building roads.
"That's all you want to do ... take a stone from somewhere and make a stepping-stone for someone, somewhere else."
LINK TO TURKEY
The project is still delayed. A final 58 km stretch to Herat province's capital, Herat City, needs to be built by Afghanistan, according to the project's terms, and has been held up.
Tavakoli predicts it could take up to another 10 years for the railroad to be completed, linking Herat to Iran's northeastern city of Mashad and on to Turkey.
Iran has spent millions of dollars on development and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, although its role is limited somewhat by U.S. policy, which restricts Iranian companies' involvement in U.S.-backed development projects.
http://www.*******.com/article/2010/...63G0LF20100417 (R-ters)Iran, US And The Afghan Conundrum – Analysis
By Dr Shanthie Mariet D Souza -- (September 7, 2011)
Iran’s Soft Power Approach: Reconstruction, Trade and Development Aid
One area in which Tehran has sought to exert influence in post-Taliban Afghanistan is in economic assistance and reconstruction. Besides playing an active role in the Bonn Conference, Iran pledged US$560 million at the Tokyo Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan in 2002, and an additional US$100 million at the 2006 London Conference. 21 Iran has been active in Afghan reconstruction efforts, particularly in the western portion of the country in the provinces of Herat, Farah, and Nimruz.
The Iranian government has funded several transportation and energy infrastructure projects, including building roads and railway links, setting up schools, and constructing Herat’s electricity grid. Iran has created a sphere of influence and a security buffer zone in the industrial heartland of Afghanistan.22
Much of the Iranian aid to Afghanistan has been spent on infrastructure projects, mainly transportation links between Iran, Afghanistan and the central Asian republics, creating mechanisms of greater integration and dependence on Iran. A 123-kilometre road linking Herat in western Afghanistan to the Dogharoun region in Iran has already been completed, and work is underway to link Afghanistan to the Iranian port of Chabahar on the Gulf of Oman, which would alleviate Afghan dependence on the Pakistani port of Karachi. In January 2009, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee inaugurated a new road between Zaranj and Delaram, connecting Nimruz province to Chabahar in Iran. Iran has encouraged trade on this route, granting Afghan exporters a 90 per cent discount on port fees and a 50 per cent discount on warehousing charges and giving Afghan vehicles full transit rights on the Iranian road system.23
Commerce (excluding petroleum) between the two countries amounts to over a billion dollars a year.24 There is also a multi-billion-dollar project to connect Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan via rail, and construction of the first leg from the Iranian border to Herat is already underway. Such transportation links with Iran provide landlocked Afghanistan an outlet to trade with the world economy, increasing commerce while extending Iranian influence. Afghanistan represents a significant untapped export market for Iranian products. Therefore, Iran has sought to foster closer economic ties with its eastern neighbour since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Iran has also encouraged Afghan businesses to relocate their international offices from the United Arab Emirates to Iran.
Iran has extended some assistance to the Afghan government to enforce a stronger border control mechanism in its counter-narcotic efforts. It has built and handed over outposts to Afghan border guards. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has expressed Iran‟s willingness to help Afghanistan bring the cultivation of illicit drugs under control.25 Of late, Iran has also drawn up a plan to legalise the presence of Afghan refugees in Iran. According to the plan, the Iranian foreign ministry will charge a fee of 300 Iranian rial from each Afghan national who plans to enter the country and will give the money back to them whenever they decide to leave Iran.26
Nevertheless, its acrimonious relations with the US have prevented closer cooperation between the two countries in Afghanistan. Iran‟s strategy of balancing US and allied (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) powers in the region, maintaining domination in the Islamic world and deterring a US attack on its nuclear facilities have instead facilitated Iranian support for the Taliban27 albeit measured. Having thus gained „strategic depth‟ in western Afghanistan, Iran has developed an asymmetrical capability to disrupt US operations or retaliate against American troops, should Iran‟s nuclear facilities be attacked.28
http://www.eurasiareview.com/0709201...drum-analysis/Most academic researches into Iran's role in reconstructing its war-ravaged neighbors yield a series of two basic conclusions. First, Iran has had largely positive impact on the economic and governmental developments of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, despite that, Iranian influence in the two countries continues to pose threat to west's military security through the piecemeal support of anti-western insurgent groups, due to the on-going tension in the broader Iran-West relationship.Document Details
Copyright: RAND Corporation
Document Number: OP-322-MCIA
Series: Occasional Papers
Iran’s Balancing Act in Afghanistan
Alireza Nader, Joya Laha
Prepared for the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity
Approved for public release; distribution unlimited
RAND NATIONAL DEFENSE RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Iran’s influence was instrumental in the establishment of the Karzai government. The Northern Alliance, dominated by Tajik commanders with close ties to Iran, was reluctant to share power with Hamid Karzai, a prominent Pashtun tribal leader. Iranian political pressure on Northern Alliance leaders during negotiations in Bonn, Germany, persuaded them to reach a compromise and agree to the formation of the new government (Dobbins, 2007; see also Dobbins, 2009).1
Iran has also played an active role in Afghanistan’s reconstruction since 2001; it initially pledged $570 million in 2002. At the Conference on Afghan Reconstruction held in February 2006, Iran pledged an additional $100 million in aid, making it one of the largest donor states since 2001 (Farrar-Wellman, 2010; see also “Karzai: Iran’s Help Has Contributed to Afghanistan Development,” 2005). According to Danesh Yazdi, former Iranian representative to the United Nations, as of March 2007, Iran had spent more than $270 million of its pledge on “mutually agreed projects in the areas of infrastructure, technical and educational services and financial and in-kind assistance” (Yazdi, date unknown). Furthermore, Iran has substantially increased trade and investment between the two nations. Current annual bilateral trade stands at approximately $1.5 billion (Sheikholeslami, 2010). Iran’s major investments in Afghanistan include infrastructure and education. One of Iran’s many development projects included a $100 million university (see Gopal, 2009).
According to the Afghanistan International Chamber of Commerce, an estimated 2,000 Iranian private firms, many financed by the Iranian government, operate in Afghanistan (Gardesh, 2006). Many of these businesses are located in Herat and aided the city’s economic revitalization after the fall of the Taliban. The Iranian government also directly funded the development of Herat’s transportation and energy infrastructure. A planned railroad will link Herat to the northeastern city of Mashhad, facilitating much-needed commerce and providing revenue to the Afghan central government though import duties. As a result of ties to Iran, Herat is arguably Afghanistan’s most developed and prosperous city. Iran’s role in stabilizing Herat province could partially explain the potential 2011 transfer of several districts near the Iranian border to Afghan security forces (Mulrine, 2010).
On the whole, it appears that Iran could play an even more positive and constructive role in Afghanistan from the U.S. perspective.2 Iran’s efforts at economic reconstruction, which are in line with the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign, outweigh the negative effects of its aid to the Taliban. Hence, Iran could serve as a natural partner for U.S. and NATO efforts to defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, especially in the Dari-speaking regions. However, the poor state of U.S.-Iranian relations has thwarted such cooperation. The U.S. inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil” in 2002, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and ongoing tensions over Iran’s nuclear aspirations have been major obstacles to leveraging Iranian influence in Afghanistan. Iranian internal political dynamics also complicated efforts at collaboration.
But I believe the benefits of engaging Iran more in the reconstruction role of Iraq and Afghanistan can still offset the cost of allowing Iran more political clout in mobilizing Iraqi and Afghan capabilities to defend Iran from a military strike. In my opinion, the added military capabilities through Iraq/Afghan surrogate warfare bring clear strategic advantages to Iran only when the following two conditions met:
There are valuable western assets in Iraq or Afghanistan that are sufficiently within reach of the insurgents to be attacked. This would be less of a problem to the western militaries once they pull out, except perhaps for diplomatic facilities or individual citizens, but even the latter problem hardly has an impact on the actual military balance.
In case of a ground campaign in Iran, the insurgents can reinforce and resupply the line of Iranian defenders against a western invasion force through land borders. However this too doesn't have a game-changing impact on the type of war the West envisions against Iran.
With that in mind, the ability of the Iranian proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan to harm western interest is still too limited. This is first due to geographic conditions (Kuwait and Pakistan would be the only likely western allies to be attacked by Iraqi and Afghan insurgents loyal to Iran), and second due to the nature of warfare that would be employed by the West against Iran, which would preemptively negate the asymmetric advantage that Iran could gain by using land guerrillas. A western coalition would avoid ground combat, utilize largely air and naval strikes to hit Iranian military targets but leave the regime and the country itself largely intact, leaving little room for the surrogates to respond effectively. Unless Iraqi air defense (which doesn't exist today) can block Israeli raid into Iran or something, or the West has an Iran ground invasion in mind using Iraq as another staging area, an Iran-friendly Iraq doesn't pose a direct military threat to western interests in the region that are outside Iraq itself.
Last edited by Ambassador; 04-02-2013 at 01:24 PM.
In hind-sight, the toppling of Saddam was a Iraq on a silver platter to the Iranian Mullahs. Which is probably why the Quataris and Saudis now are very eager to get rid of Al-Assad. The Syrian-Iraqi-Persian triad of Shia-Muslims is quite a threat to their power. More so than any 'Zionist' or 'imperialist' state would ever be.