The chance for peace with Iran further dissipates

The disposition of the Middle East after the Iraq war depends heavily on the relationships other countries establish with Iran. Will the USA seek to overthrow the government covertly or out in the open? Will Israel continue its belligerency up to the point of open hostilities? Will Iraq move toward friendliness or recreate the old enmities?

Recent indications are discouraging. As I wrote last week, a US policy to destabilize Iran may be coalescing. It now seems the "sovereign" Iraqi government is moving in the same direction. A couple weeks ago Defense Minister Hazim al-Shaalan made a series of anti-Iran comments, accusing it of fomenting terrorism in Iraq and threatening to retaliate militarily. Shaalan's views were immediately contradicted by other members of the government, including Prime Minister Allawi. But now Allawi is moving toward Shaalan, having cancelled a diplomatic visit to Iran in protest of Irani interference in Iraqi affairs.

Juan Cole comments:
Allawi's cozy relations with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and his snub of Iran, suggests an emerging pattern in the caretaker government. Secular, pro-American Shiites like Allawi and Shaalan are increasingly throwing their lot in with powerful Sunni Arab neighbors of Iraq, cementing their alliance with Sunni Iraqi politicians like President Yawar in the process. In contrast, the religious Shiite parties are not being given any significant role in the new government (al-Da`wa has a vice-presidency and SCIRI has the Finance Ministry, and that is about it; the Sadrists have nothing). They are the ones who would seek close relations with Iran if they could. The religious Shiite parties also appear to be being sidelined in the national congress. Are pro-American, secular Shiite leaders a trojan horse inside Shiite Iraq for restored Sunni power and diplomacy in Iraq and the Gulf?
As I wrote last month, the restoration of Sunni Baathist power seems to be the USA's goal in Iraq. Hostility to Iran is a key part of this program. From the time of the first USA-Iraq war to the runup to invasion in 2003, the biggest fear American planners had in overthrowing Hussein was that the Shi'i majority would ally with Iran once it was freed of Baathist tyranny. The neocons were convinced that the Shia would welcome them and accept American control, but more cautious types in State and the CIA worried that Iran would benefit and American power in the region be weakened.

Clearly the State/CIA fears were more grounded in reality than the neocon fantasies. But taking over Iran has always been at least as important to the neocons as taking over Iraq, just harder to do. Now that the Iraqi Shia have proved independent and the strategy in Iraq has been shifted to Baathist restoration, it has become an urgent priority for the Americans to contain the potential gains for Iran and prevent the emergence of a Shi'i regime in Iraq. These two aims are closely linked for both the Americans and those who head the government in Baghdad. As elections in Iraq approach, watch out for increasing attacks on Iran and Iraqi Shia as justification for containing the power of both.

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