Is Teheran Running America’s Iraq Policy?

Why have a blog, especially an unofficial non-magazine-sponsored blog, if not to engage in a little semi-formed speculating? Thus, what’s going on with Iranian efforts to influence the course of events in Iraq? Some data points:

  • A certain segment of the conservative commentariat and think tankosphere has been pushing the argument that, despite its apparent social basis in the Sunni Arab towns and neighborhoods, the Iraqi insurgency is being backed in an important way be Iran. Call these people the “Iran hawks.”
  • The Iran hawks claim, at times, to be supported in this analysis by certain segments of the US government centered around the Pentagon.
  • The closest thing to hard data the Iran hawks can point to, however, is a report by Italian Military Intelligence, Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), which does not appear to exist in an English-language version, though I read a Google-translated version of an Italian press account.
  • Probably the clearest account of the Iran hawk version of events, including the SISMI report, is this from Michael Ledeen in The Wall Street Journal, though other sources exist.
  • Near as I can tell, the American Intelligence Community thinks this is wrong. Not only wrong, but diametrically opposed to the truth. According to the Congressional Research Service’s relevant brief Iran is, in fact, backing two Iraqi political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and al-Dawa, both of which are represented in the current Interim Government against which the insurgency is directed. Moreover, these parties, al-Dawa in particular, can be expected to do quite well if the elections which the insurgency apparently fears are ever held.

The Iran hawks believe themselves to beadvocating a more rigorous anti-Iranian policy. If the American Intelligence Community is to believed, however, they are in fact advocating that we deploy more American force in order to defeat an insurgency that is directed against an Iranian-backed Interim Government in Iraq. Then there are these facts:

  • We now know that Iran has some sort of covert relationship with Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.
  • The US government seemed to have turned against Chalabi at one point, though it was never totally clear who exactly made the relevant decisions. We do know, however, that Paul Bremer’s increasing souring on Chalabi played an important role in this.
  • Near the beginning of his proconsulship, Bremer was essentially reporting to Donald Rumsfeld and co. in the Pentagon. Over time, the chain of command between Bremer and the president seems to have shifted to Robert Blackwill who has an hard-to-decypher title, but who’s job was apparently to help Condi Rice wrest control of Iraq policy out of the hands of the folks who’d made a hash of everything.
  • Blackwill’s ascendancy and Bremer’s turn against Chalabi were both related to the CPA’s turn in favor of Lakhdar Brahimi with regard to the composition of the Interim Government. Right at the crucial moment when it seemed that Blackwill, Brahimi, and Bremer were about to triumph over Chalabi and his supporters, there was a sudden turning fo the tide. The IGC staged a kind of counter-coup and forced Bremer and Brahimi to, contrary to their plans, endorce an Interim Government composed of IGC members.
  • At one time, it seemed that the transfer of sovereignty would portend a shift in control of US Iraq policy from the Pentagon (via the CPA) to the State Department (via the American Embassy). Once the CPA fell under Blackwill’s command, however, this is no longer an issue, the Pentagon would control neither the CPA nor the embassy. Indeed, in the Blackwill Era, the transfer of power would seem to enhance DOD’s authority over Iraq, since the Embassy has less influence over the US military force than did the CPA. Embassy will operate independently of the Pentagon, but Rumsfeld is in charge of the military deployment, which is the real American power in the country.

Now as I’ve said before, the Iran hawks sometimes claim that the DOD civilians (and, presumably, the fellow travelers in the VP’s office) are with them on the question fo Iranian support for the insurgency. The following things are possible, any of which would be fairly benign, as far as these things go:

  1. SISMI is right about the underlying facts and the CRS is wrong.
  2. SISMI is wrong, but the Iran hawks are a marginal group on the right with no real support inside the administration.
  3. SISMI is wrong and the Iran hawks are speaking on behalf of a faction within the administration, but other factions continue to have the upper hand in American Iraq policy.

On the other hand, there is also the following non-benign possibility: SISMI is wrong, the Iran hawks speak on behalf of a faction within the administration, and this faction has regained control of America’s Iraq policy. This would entail the notion that the administration, pursuing a path it believes to be necessary to forestall Iranian control of Iraq, is, in fact, doing the bidding of the Iranian regime. This might have occurred through some kind of tragic coincidence or else, knowing what we know about the faction in question’s relationship with the IGC and about the IGC’s relationship with Iran, it might be part of some kind of deliberate Iranian counterintelligence operation. Maybe. Probably not, but, I think, maybe.