There’s more than a whiff of rodent coming off the story carried in various U.S. outlets this week claiming that Iran is supposedly supplying sophisticated explosives to Iraq’s insurgency.
The regime in Iran may hate the U.S., but not necessarily as much as they hate those waging the Sunni insurgency against the Americans in Iraq: the Baathists and neo-Baathists who make up the bulk of the insurgent leadership, and the foreign jihadis led by Zarqawi and recently aligned with al Qaeda. The Baathists, who launched the war against Iran that effectively crippled the Islamic Revolution in its infancy, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis — and later butchering fellow Shiites in Iraq — are a sworn enemy; the Zarqawi crew have far outdone any of their Qaeda kin in articulating, and acting on a virulent anti-Shiite bloodlust that would make cooperation with it by Iran the equivalent of Israel supplying weapons to Islamic Jihad.
Then there’s the fact that the new government in Iraq is dominated by two parties — the Dawa, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq — that are historically and currently very close to Tehran. Iran has signed agreements with the new Iraqi government on everything from refining oil and supplying electricity to training the new military (swallow that one, Rummy!)
And Fareed Zakaria points out that in putting out feelers for talks with the Americans, the Baathist leadership of the insurgency are making clear that they consider Iran their more immediate strategic enemy, which has gained considerable ground in Baghdad as a result of Saddam’s ouster.
It’s arguable, even, whether Iran really wants the U.S. forced out right now. Not only does the quagmire in which U.S. forces are trapped in Iraq function as a kind of insurance policy for Tehran (they can’t be invaded while the U.S. is so overstretched), the reality is that if the U.S. pulled out now the resulting showdown between the Shiite militias and the insurgents would probably draw Iran increasingly into the same quagmire the U.S. had just vacated.
For the story about alleged arms supplies to be true, the regime in Tehran would have to be capable of the same degree of cynicism as the Reagan administration was back in the ’80s when it was supplying weapons to both Iraq and Iran. But on top of that, they’d have to be remarkably stupid, because doing so runs counter to their most basic interests. I doubt that. Instead, I’m inclined to agree with Juan Cole that this story sounds more than a little dubious.
P.S. While some critics may see this as part of an ongoing effort to tee up Iran for regime change, I’m inclined to see a more modest motivation (not even the neocons could seriously propagate the U.S. getting involved in a new war of occupation in the region). Instead, the purpose may be to drive a wedge between the new government in Baghdad and its close friends in Tehran (and play up Arab-Persian hostilities rather than Shiite affinities). After all, it can’t be much fun for the neocons to behold the fruit of democracy in Iraq being a pro-Iran government.