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Iran’s bid for power in postwar Iraq

The article talks about the Iranian attempts to impact Iraqi religious and political life through their religious proxies. For example, it specifically emphasizes the attempt of Iran to install Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi in a highly clerical position in Najaf, which would come at the cost of the current Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. If Shahroudi challenges Al-Sistani, this would show clear evidence of Iranian attempt to influence Iraq by challenging Iraqi top religious leaders.

Saudis have also reacted against installment of Shahroudi. Saudi government has stated that such action “represents clear evidence that Khamenei is determinedly planning to intervene in a broad scale in Iraq.”

 

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Obama, al-Maliki to chart future for U.S., Iraq

This article brings us more close to the future that the Iraqis will follow now that the U.S. troops are pulling out. The article has been published in CBSNews and can be accessed here. It is especially important the meeting with Obama and Al-Maliki, Iraqi prime Minister, where they expect to discuss the U.S. – Iraqi. One other topic that the Obama administration is concerned is the Iranian influence over Iraq. The article refers specifically to Maqtada al-Sadr, who is believed to have close ties with Iranians. This is major issue to the Americans because on one hand Al-Sadr is in coalition with Al-Maliki, and on the other hand, he has been one of the biggest anti-American voices in Iraq.

Al-Maliki, however, have refused to admit any influence of Iran over Iraq and stated that Iraq will follow policies that are in best national interest.

This is another example how Iranians are trying to influence Iraqi policies by using their proxies like Maqtada al-Sadr, a Shi’a influential cleric, to increase their dominance in the region.

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Letters from Iran

Letters from Iran

This Al-Jazeera documentary examines post-Green Movement Iran and how the opposition is still operating under the severe repression of the Iranian state today. With a focus on middle class students, protesters, and their families, Letters from Iran documents the brutal tactics of current regime to crush any opposition whether it be peaceful or not. Public gatherings to mourn the dead are forbidden, universities are infiltrated by members of religious militia forces in attempt to eliminate student movements, and there are secret prisons all over Iran where students and protesters are regularly tortured and killed for their peaceful political activities. This film looks at the lives of several activists who speak of how they live their lives fear but will not give up the fight for justice and democracy in Iran. Even by participating in the filming of this documentary, they have greatly put there lives at risk. Yetthere is still a glimmer of hope in each of their stories that their efforts will result in eventual freedom from oppression. Letters from Iran is a rare look inside an extremely closed country from the perspective of people who are regularly silenced by their government. Take a look!

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Engaging Iran

While the article “Engage Iran”, by Suzanne Maloney and Ray Takeyh, is four years old and some of the analysis may be outdated, it still gives insight into Iran’s possible influence over Iraq especially during the process of US forces pulling out of the region. The original post can be found here on the CFR website.

The authors state that Iraq would fall under internal and external pressures if left to fend on its own due to the vulnerable position that Iraq is currently in. The broader Gulf and Middle East region will suffer from Iraq’s problems, as it used to be a power and the lack of which has created a vacuum that needs to be filled. Iran would be more than happy to fill that void, and its role and ambitions will affect that outcome. This leads to a recreation of the American strategy, which now needs to focus on countering Iran’s role, and the importance of engaging Iran to help stabilize Iraq.

With US troops set to leave by the end of this year, Tehran will begin to play hegemon, and to fully achieve this role, there are two threats that will need to be deterred. These are the Baathists in Iraq and the American military, which will be interested in supplying the necessary security to foreign influence.
Iran, on the other hand, will be using its relationships with the certain Shia and Kurdish factions that are operating within Iraq. This will also affect the US role within the Iraqi government, as they have been going against the Iranian proxies throughout the war, but a further escalation could inflame Iraq and the region. It will be in US interest to restrain and redirect Iranian policies for a more peaceful Iraq.

The US challenge will be a diplomatic process that generates region-wide buy in to a stable and unified Iraq, something that would be of interest to all of the regional players. With the US leaving Iraq behind, this will invoke a degree of caution and responsibility from Iran. With the newly enflamed situation in Syria, Iran will need to create relations with the other nations in the area in the case that the al-Assad regime will not be there in the near future. The next couple years will be an important time, and in the wake of the Arab Spring, a new wave of regimes may spread. If this wave will reach Tehran and how the Iranian officials will deal with the outcome will be important to US policy in the region.

 

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The Scorpion’s Sting and the Python’s Grip

This following summary is from a commentary, found here, covering the relationship between the United States and Iran. The author, John Calabrese, uses the current situation in Iraq and historical incidents to explain how this unstable relationship has played out over time.

Former President Mohammed Khatami may have been one of the last officials on either side to favor reconciliation between Iran and the United States. He worked together with President Clinton and there were people to people exchanges and a partial lifting of some sanctions. However, when President Bush was elected, the policy returned to its original state, with Ayatollah Khomeini stating that negotiations with the Bush administration would be futile, insulting and humiliating.

Khatami also supported a rapprochement with Baghdad, something that the hardline officials in Iran found to be inexcusable. They deemed the Iraqi regime to be dangerous and untrustworthy and were preoccupied with the Baathist regional ambitions and military capabilities, such as ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s.
It is from that war though, where the misgivings stem from. Calabrese states there is still no peace and prisoners of war are still in Iraq, as well as refugees. Iranian anger can be understood when the author points out that Iranian compensation and reparation claims are still laying at the United Nations. Of course Iranian officials are quick to put blame on their Iraqi counterparts, stating obstruction of working-level negotiations. The cultural and humanitarian issues have become politically charged and low level conflict continues between the two nations. These include assassinations, terror and sabotage along the border. One of the main perpetrators is the Mujaheddin al-Khalq (MKO), which has been responsible for many attacks against Iran since 1981.

While UN sanctions against Iraq have kept it weak in conventional military terms, it has been strategically beneficial to Iran to ensure Iraq’s compliance with these sanctions. This is the one area where the United States and Iran share a common interest, while relations have been confrontational. US policy has been to protect the regions’ oil from hostile countries, a topic that many find to be the only reason the US has been involved in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Iran feels threatened by the US presence in Iraq. It is interpreted the approach in Iraq to be centered on regime change and includes a vision of a democratic Middle East, a direct threat to the Iranian theocracy. Additionally, President Bush used a radio address to express solidarity with the Iranian people, viewed by Tehran officials as a threat of destabilization.

With relations between Washington and Tehran being brittle, there are many factors that contributed to the erosion of the relationship. For starters, there was the “Karine A” incident in 2002, which was a cargo ship en route to Palestine intercepted by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The shipment contained weapons from Iran while there are many speculations of conspiracy. Further, there are allegations of Iran harboring al-Qaeda fugitives and arming and funding Afghan warlords. The 2002 State of the Union comment putting Iran in the “Axis of Evil” did not help smooth out relations, as well as heavy US pressure to keep Iran out of the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. Russia has also been affected by US pressure to limit weapons sales and terminate projects and contracts with Iran in the nuclear field. Regarding this issue, the US is in favor of the “United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission” (UNMOVIC) to inspecting Iranian military uses.

Multiple Sources of Apprehension

The US factor to Iran, as stated by the Defense Minister Ali Shamkani, is the US presence in Iraq would (has) increased the threat to and vulnerability of ran in terms of security. The obvious statement here would be the fear of a future invasion. There are concerns over the actions taken against Iraq and Iran has exploited the crisis and girded itself against the dangers associated with the US invasion. It has been clear since the beginning that Iran would take an opposing stance against the invasion, and while it is known that the US presence would present a threat to the Iranian leadership, officials have been outspoken over other issues as well.

Iran has maintained active neutrality and would have preferred a political solution to the crisis. There was a focus on disarmament and a commitment to a multilateral approach. Then-President Khatami called to avert war, under the guise of its own interests to keep the US out of Iraq. With the looming threat of an invasion, Iran tried to use the weakness of Baghdad to extract as many concessions as possible, as cheaply as possible and yet denying military cooperation during the invasion process.

Iran was also heavily involved in cultivating the Iraqi opposition, forging tactical alliances with individual Iraqi groups within Iraq. The SAIRI (Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq) is a Shiite group that is based in Iranian territory and the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) is a Kurdish faction used to pressure Baghdad and restrain the Iran Kurdistan Democratic party (IKDP).

While these actions were taken against Iraq directly, Iran relied on diplomacy during the early stages of the US-Iraq War and keeping a strategic alliance with Syria and détente with other Arab countries. Iran even went to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to address the issues over Iraqi refugees flooding the border to Iran. Other steps to avert the war completely were taken and Iranian officials began talks with European leaders, something Calabrese states was used to provide future support in the event of a US invasion in Iran.

It is clear that Iran was opposed against the war in Iraq, but reasons range from the refugee issue to having US presence so close to home. As stated in the IAEA report, nuclear programs were stopped during the early stages of the invasion in 2003. Iran had its own interest in Iraq and having the US military present only gave it more problems than needed. With the recent reports of the spy drone being intercepted by Iran, it is clear that the US has used its presence in Iraq to actively spy on Iran and its nuclear facilities. While it would have been beneficial to Iran and its regional aspirations, as well as the nuclear program, if the invasion had never taken place, the United States has long-lasting presence in the region and it will be a while until that will recede.

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Missile Capabilities of Iran

This following summary is also from the CSIS report on the Iranian nuclear and missile capabilities provided by Anthony H. Cordesman. While the previous post was more focused on the actual report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, this is more of an analysis by Cordesman on the current situation. The author looks at the overall military capability by Iran, conventional and possible nuclear, and the United States view and potential policies on Iran.

Cordesman states that Iran has a massive military program, one that has been developed into a ballistic based potential. While Iran does have a significant missile force capable of reaching Israel, the ballistic missile technology is based on Russian, North Korean and Chinese technology. The long-range ballistic capabilities lack the accuracy and lethality to properly act as a deterrent against foreign threats and this is why that Iran has been substituting its asymmetric warfare forces for its inability to modernize its conventional forces to compete with the US and other Gulf regional players. While the Iranian missile force is the largest in the Middle East, the lack of accuracy does not pose a threat to conventional military balance.

The most prolific threat to the stability in the Middle East, especially between Israel and its Arab neighbors are the conventional weapons. One example of the ballistic potential of Iran’s arsenal is the Shahab-3, a medium-range missile. This missile has a range of 1,000km and 1,500km, while some varieties have a capability of up to 2,500km. Reports also exist about a “smart” anti-ship missile, called the Khalij Fars, which has a range of 150km. If used to its full potential, this missile could upset the naval balance of the region.

As stated before, while most of the technology is not up to par with other modern weaponry from the United States, the use of CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear) weapons could upset the military balance of the Middle East. However, the amount of nuclear facilities in use by Iran is unknown.

US View of Iran’s Nuclear Missile Efforts

While much information is open to public access, more exists as classified; therefore we need to make analysis based on the information available to everyone. The author uses the unclassified information to his best ability to give his view on the situation.

It is clear that Iran has continued developing a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons. As already addressed in the IAEA report, there has been an expansion of nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment related to the Heavy Water Production Plants.
Some of the missile capabilities have been discussed above, and it is well-known that Iran has many short and medium range ballistic missiles. There is also a claim of a 2000km range missile known as the Ashura and a two stage rocket known as Sejil.
Russian entities have previously helped in the ballistic development while Iran remains very dependent on foreign suppliers for components.
Iran has announced intentions of joining the space community by sending its own satellites into space, reported back in 2005.

The chemical and biological side has fewer implications for the United States but plays a major role in the Middle East. Research in the fields may have offensive applications and there is a possibility of weaponization of chemical and biological agents.

The Potential Impact of Iranian Nuclear Weapons on US and Iranian Capabilities

The author makes a point against the outburst of reports over the Iranian proliferation. While the possibility of Iran having a weapon of such scale would tip the balance in the region, Iran still does not possess a nuclear weapon. Nuclear tests have never been conducted, no plans for developing certain types or yields are known and using delivery systems to gain influence, deter or just for warfighting purposes.
As long as Iran does not allow Agency teams in to investigate, governments and intelligence agencies need to make assumptions over the possibility. Given the state of much of its air force and rest of the conventional military, there is an increased probability of nuclear warheads, as well as covert means of transporting and using a nuclear weapon.

Implications for US Policy

It is clear that the US has the conventional superiority but this is why Iran may be seeking to use asymmetric strategy to counteract American influence. Iran would most likely attempt to expand the unconventional capabilities as a deterrent and expand regional influence and reach. Iraq and Lebanon have already been known proxies for Iranian agents, as well as Iran’s one ally, Syria.

Iran has the capability to do damage but incapable of a decisive victory, a fact that may deter any Iranian aggression for the time being. In the meantime, the US needs to improve detection mechanisms and early warning systems. The US is already attempting to expand its missile defend shield and this would be a further deterrent against Iran.

While Israel has been threatening with strikes against the nuclear facilities in Iran, such a preemptive strike against immature programs would not work at this time. Such a move could just fuel Iran with justification for the proliferation of nuclear weapons against the Zionist aggressor.

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