Iran in Iraq & Iraq in Iran

For some time it’s been clear that Iran is more than peripherally involved in the violence in Iraq. The Bush administration has so far refused to talk to Tehran, but now Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani has basically said “if you’re not going to, I will.” That’s right- Talabani has accomplished what Saddam Hussein tried unsuccessfully to do for years: he’s finally arrived in the capital of Iran.

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Of course, it was by slightly different means than what Saddam always intended.

Al-Jazeera has a piece about Talabani’s visit, where he plans to meet with Holocaust-denying, nuclear-weapons-seeking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and with theocratic ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei . Interestingly, it seems that Khamenei and the many Islamic clerics who control much of Iran’s government serve as a necessary counterbalance to Ahmadinejad. In other words, despite what ole Mahmoud says, don’t expect Iran to nuke Israel any time soon.

An interesting note from the Al-Jazeera piece:

Analysts said Talabani, who speaks Farsi fluently after years of contacts with Iran when in opposition to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president, could press Iran to stop seeing Iraq as a battleground in its three-decade-old fight with Washington.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported leaks from the Iraq Study Group, which has advocated (not suprisingly) that America talk openly with Iran and Syria. As I noted in Why Both Parties Have it Wrong in Iraq, whether we acknowledge it or not, Iraq’s neighbors already have large stakes in Iraq’s future.

From the NYT:

“Officials said that the draft of the section on diplomatic strategy, which was heavily influenced by Mr. Baker, seemed to reflect his public criticism of the administration for its unwillingness to talk with nations like Iran and Syria.

“But senior administration officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, have expressed skepticism that either of those nations would go along, especially while Iran is locked in a confrontation with the United States over its nuclear program. ‘Talking isn’t a strategy,’ he said in an interview in October.

“‘The issue is how can we condition the environment so that Iran and Syria will make a 180-degree turn, so that rather than undermining the Iraqi government, they will support it.'”

Apparently James A. Baker III is a big proponent of dialogue with Iran and Syria concerning security in Iraq. Hopefully Robert Gates (the former Iraq Study Group member nominated to replace Rumsfeld) will have similar opinions.

The main complaint against talking with Iran and Syria is that it will merely encourage them in their current paths. But I think we have to accept that Iran and Syria will continue to have strong influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the region whether we like it or not, solely by nature of their proximity. The issue at hand is not what the ideological superior thing to do is (i.e., not talking to states that back terrorists) but what the best method for relieving their potential threat is, and in the long term, how to move the Middle East toward governments that are stable, not overly theocratic, and allow some form of a public input (a difficult balance).

It seems that the only loser in the talks between Iran and Iraq is the United States, as it will give Iran more leverage when we finally do get around to talking to them Thoughts?

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