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A post-American world can benefit Iraq and Iran

Posted by alanmirs on August 13, 2011

August 13, 2011 12:36 AMBy Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

The Daily Star

The current crisis in Iraq contains all the factors shaping the new political realities in the region. After twice invading Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, conducting an ongoing Cold War against Iran and a war on terror that is losing traction in the mountainous labyrinth of the Hindu Kush along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the United States is finally realizing that the international system cannot be ruled by military might.

The cost of the unipolar moment that neoconservatives indulged in with such hedonistic violence has thrown the U.S. into economic crisis. The middle classes and especially the lower strata of society have paid with blood and sweat for the war on terror. The strategic gain has been nil.

In fact, in addition to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan eclipsed American strategic options. There is no Saddam or Taliban any more that can be manipulated in order to check Iran and attack the country if necessary. And now Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak are gone, too. Ultimately, the strategic blunder, the inhumanity of the U.S. occupation, changed the perception of the U.S. in the minds of a majority of Arabs and Muslims.

The blunder in Iraq also affected the domestic politics of the U.S. In many ways, it was the Iraq episode that paved the way for the Obama presidency. The anti-war vote for Obama was a major factor in his success in the 2008 elections. The second factor is intimately related to the emergence of a post-American order.

For over two decades, Saddam was very functional in containing revolutionary Iran. Lest we forget, President George H.W. Bush betrayed the Kurds and Shiites in their revolt against Saddam immediately after the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991, because he needed the Iraqi leader to check Iran and subdue Iraq’s Shiites who were seen as natural allies of Iran. A Shiite-led Iraq does not translate into subservience to Iran. Alliances are based on interest, not on ethnic or religious affiliation. The “Shiite factor” is a necessary, but not a sufficient, explanation for the emerging Iraqi-Iranian relationship.

Political elites in Iran have known this. They engineered institutional options at an early stage during Iran’s war with Iraq, in 1980-1988, for instance the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq under the leadership of the late Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim (now, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq). Iran was able to mobilize a vast network of religious foundations (bonyads), nongovernmental organizations, charities and family bonds from Tehran, Qom, Ahvaz and Mashhad in Iran to Baghdad, Karbala, Qazimiyya and Najaf in Iraq. This infrastructure is in many ways “organic.” It developed historically, at least since the Safavid dynasty, and was fortified in the 20th century by political alliances (for instance, with the Kurdish movements).

And then there are the clerical links. All major sources of emulation in Iran’s contemporary history have had some personal link to Najaf and Karbala, or both. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini studied in Najaf and he stayed there in exile. Khomeini was very close to Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, the father-in-law of Muqtada al-Sadr, who is currently studying in Qom. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Iraqi marja al-taqlid (source of emulation, the highest clerical rank in Shiism) was born in Iran. In turn, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, a confidante of the current supreme leader of the Iran and the former judiciary minister of the country, was born in Iraq. So the Iranian-Iraqi narrative is intensely intermingled beyond mere sectarian dimensions.

The imperial power of the U.S. never translated into a Pax Americana for the people of western Asia as it did in post-war Europe. The U.S. did not forge a viable security architecture that would be inclusive and that it would enforce in the name of stability. The pro-Israel lobby and other right-wing constituencies ensure that U.S. foreign policies remain divisive. For the U.S., regional security interdependencies are problematic because they make it more difficult to divide and rule.

Conversely, for the people of the region, the Iranian-Iraqi relationship is only a good thing because it creates interdependencies that can translate into a viable regional security order, much in the same way as the Venezuelan-Cuban axis enforced the autonomy of Latin America. After all, it is primarily the people of the region who pay the price of war, not those outside it. Hopefully, the political elites in Iraq and Iran will rise to the occasion and contain the extremists in their ranks. The people on both sides of the Shatt al-Arab deserve peace and reconciliation. To that end, the post-American order is an opportunity.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::

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